Two Kentucky no-tillers look at switchgrass and see the color green — the money they believe they can make by converting the crop into fuel for electric power.
No-tillers Glen Young and Danny Blevins are in the second year of a pilot project to grow the native prairie species and sell it as a biofuel that could be a more environmentally friendly alternative to coal, or at least a supplement.
"That's the age-old question for a farmer: Is it practical?" says Blevins, a retired teacher, environmentalist and conservationist who grows the grass on his family farm in Boyd County. "Can you make a profit? I think you can."
Among the most dominant grasses in the prairies that once covered the Central Plains, switchgrass is a perennial that grows to around 6 feet and can be harvested once or more per year for 10 years. It can survive extreme temperature swings and drought better than most traditional crops.
One advantage, Young says, is no special equipment is needed to grow or harvest it. He plants it with the same no-till drill he uses for grain, soybeans and other grasses and maintains it with the sprayers and harvesters found in his barn.
Even on marginal land, the grass has proven reliable — even through there was considerable dryness in 2008 and excessive rainfall last year. Young and Blevins are among 20 farmers growing 5-acre plots of the grass under a University of Kentucky test project.