Researchers in Tennessee are looking at the feasibility of no-tilling switchgrass, a warm-season perennial that can grow up to 7 feet in height, as raw material for biofuels and an alternative to corn-based ethanol.
University of Tennessee scientists are no-tilling 32 acres of switchgrass as part of a feasibility study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. Also, five Henry County farmers are growing 92 acres of switchgrass near Paris, Tenn., for the project. The switchgrass, first planted in 2004, is cut, baled and shipped to an electric-generating plant in Gadsden, Ala.
The researchers say no-tilling works best for growing switchgrass.
Ken Goddard, the Henry County extension agent who works with the five farmers, says preparing the soil through conventional tillage exposes more weed seed. “You want to try to keep the weed competition in check as much as possible,” he says, noting that only one herbicide, Cimarron (formerly known as Ally), is registered for use on switchgrass.
Goddard says switchgrass offers advantages such as low input costs and relatively low management requirements that could make it a good choice for no-tillers looking for alternative crops.
The researchers also recommend that no nitrogen be applied to the switchgrass during the initial growing season because the first-year fertilizer helps competing weeds become better established.