Giant miscanthus is garnering attention across the Midwest because of its high biomass output, its potential for conversion to ethanol and its adaptability to many soil types.

Ohio State University Extension researchers are studying the feasibility of growing giant miscanthus, which is a perennial warm-season grass from Asia, in southern Ohio for combustion and conversion to ethanol.

Maurus Brown, an OSU Extension bioenergy and specialty crop specialist, hopes giant miscanthus will become a profitable crop for the state's farmers.

“We are interested in learning how miscanthus performs under field conditions in southern Ohio,” Brown says.  “This is an educational opportunity for farmers to learn how to plant it, produce it, harvest it and market the biomass to industry.”

Giant miscanthus typically grows for one season before it’s ready for harvest.
Once established, a stand of giant miscanthus can last 15 years. Since it’s a perennial, there’s no need to re-plant each year.  

Ohio State researchers also have their eyes on giant miscanthus because the plant is considered more productive than other biofuel crops, such as switchgrass. Miscanthus can produce twice the biomass as switchgrass, according to University of Illinois research.

Brown is collaborating with Mendel Biotechnology, a developer of energy crops, in the 5-year trial, which starts this month. About an acre of land on the OSU South Centers campus in Piketon will be used to grow unfertilized miscanthus. The miscanthus crop likely won’t be ready for harvest until the fall or winter of 2011.

“The data collected will be disseminated to develop a better understanding of crop performance, production practices, input costs, budgeting, harvesting and marketing the biomass crop,” Brown says. “In addition, we also want to learn more about impacts from insects, diseases, weather and fertility issues.”

Unlike annual row crops, giant miscanthus varieties are not propagated by seed. They must be propagated via rhizome division or via plugs, so initial establishment costs could be high. However, this cost can be amortized over many years due to a long crop rotation.

The planting rate is about 4,000 plants per acre, but the economic needs of farmers and end users will determine commercial planting.

“Miscanthus production is not intended to compete with established field crops like corn and soybeans,” Brown says. “There are plenty of opportunities to grow the crop on marginal land, land enrolled in conservation programs, and land not suited for corn or soybean production.”

For more information, contact Maurus Brown at (740) 289-2071 or e-mail him at: brown.989@cfaes.osu.edu