Switchgrass Production in Marginal Environments: A Comparative Economic Analysis across Four West Tennessee Landscapes
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) has been identified as a model feedstock for the emerging biofuels industry. Its selection was based, in part, upon the observation that switchgrass can produce high yields in marginal production environments. This trait may become particularly valuable in coming years, as renewable fuel mandates begin to take effect and concerns over the food-versus-fuel debate increase. Relatively little research information exists about how management practices and production costs vary across different production environments. The objectives of this research were (a) to compare switchgrass yields as influenced by seeding rate and nitrogen fertilization rates in low-, intermediate-, and high-yielding switchgrass production environments, (b) to determine the economically optimal seeding rate and nitrogen fertilization rate for each environment, and (c) to calculate per-ton production costs. Experimental yield data from four locations were utilized for this study. Plots were seeded in 2004 with treatments of 2.5, 5.0, 7.5, 10.0, and 12.5 lbs/acre. Nitrogen was applied in subsequent intervals at 0, 60, 120 and 180 lbs/acre. For an expected stand lifespan of 10 years, production costs ranged from $45 per ton in a well drained level upland environment ideal for the production of row crops to $70 per ton in a marginal, poorly drained flood plain in which the switchgrass stand was slow to establish and which demonstrated lower overall yields.
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