Giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) is a large warm-season Asian grass, and a new leading biomass crop in the United States. With the USDA approving Ashtabula County as a project area for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), farmers are exploring growing Giant Miscanthus. This web page has been developed to assist producers in NE Ohio.
What is Miscanthus?
Giant miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) is a large warm-season grass, and a new leading biomass crop in the United States. Experience in Europe suggests giant miscanthus will be productive over a wide geographic range in temperate regions, including marginal land. Trials across the country have demonstrated miscanthus can yield more than two times more biomass than traditional switchgrass varieties. Fertility requirements need further investigation but appear minimal if the crop is allowed to complete senescence and nutrient translocation before the annual harvest. Weed control is essential during establishment (one to three years), then typically not required again. Stands are expected to last 15 to 20 years, depending on management.
What is its potential for Northeast Ohio & Northwest Pennsylvania?
There is great potential for Miscanthus in Northeast Ohio for a variety of reasons. The major competitive advantage is the potential acreage available for production. Miscanthus will grow on marginal soils thus allowing for fallow and marginal acres in NE Ohio to be placed in production (contracted acreage will most likely not be on land already in corn or soybean production). Another advantage is that Northeast Ohio was chosen by the United States Department of Agriculture as a BCAP (Biomass Crop Assistance Program) project area on June 15, 2011. This program will provide federal benefits to farmers who transition part of their farm acreage to miscanthus production. This program in Northeast Ohio is conducted by the Farm Service Agency located in Orwell, Ohio (440-437-6330).
Another plus for Biofuel production in NE Ohio is the proximity to Lake Erie and the Plant C Power Plant (could be revamped to convert biofuels to energy). Farmers in the area also have been producing forages (hay and pasture acreage) which accounts for the largest percentage of farm acreage in Ashtabula County. Farmers also have some of the needed equipment for tillage, spraying and harvesting. For farmers which do not have the needed field work, there are private and commercial custom operators to complete the needed field activities.
What about profitability?
There is potential for good farm revenue from miscanthus. OSU Extension is currently working on economic budgets for miscanthus in Northeast Ohio. The budgets being developed include: 1) standard 2) BCAP-Enhanced; 3) Comparison (miscanthus vs corn/soybean). These budgets will be posted shortly. It should be noted that additional budgets from Iowa, Illinois and Michigan can be found in the Internet Resources.
What are the limitations/obstacles?
As with any new crop, there will be a learning curve for farmers who will begin raising Miscanthus in Northeast Ohio. Producer education is one of the benefits (and requirement), however, of Ashtabula County being designated as a BCAP project area. A second limitation/obstacle is that the Miscanthus acreage will be planted through the use of rhizomes which requires greater expertise during planting (planting, weed control, and water availability). A third limitation is the typical harvest window for Miscanthus is after a fall killing frost and before the emergence of the new shoots in the spring. Thus the producer will need to work around the winter weather found in the Northeast Ohio snow belt.
Other limitations which have been cited as production barriers across the United States include: 1) limited planting material (will be supplied in Ohio by Aloterra); and 2) limited planting and harvesting equipment (Aloterra reports they have developed equipment for planting and harvesting).
Additional questions have been raised on the invasive nature of Miscanthus giganteus. Research from Europe has shown the rhizome structure of giant miscanthus spreads very slowly (see eXtension link below), thus minimizing vegetative spread. The oldest research stands in Europe were planted in the late 1980s and have only moved approximately 3 feet from their original location. The BCAP rules also require field buffers for all production acreage.
Is there Ohio Researched Based Information?
A research plot is also in the developmental stages to be planted at the O.A.R.D.C. (Ohio Agricultural Research & Development Center) Ashtabula Research Station in Kingsville, Ohio in either 2011 or 2012 to test Miscanthus under local conditions in Northeast Ohio).
The Ohio Seed Improvement Association has also completed research on Miscanthus production. They have also developed with Aloterra Energy a custom Quality Assurance third party program for Miscanthus giganteus.
Internet Resources on Miscanthus
This web site has been developed and is maintained by eXtension (national collaboration for Extension Services across the US). This web site is frequently updated and provides information on miscanthus biology, production and agronomic information (field preparation, planting, pest control, fertility, harvesting), potential yields, production challenges (propagation, overwinter survival, estimated production cost) and environmental/sustainability issues.
This site is coordinated by the Michigan State University. It includes revenue and budget production estimates.
This is a five page fact sheet written by University of Illinois. This resource includes: description, propagation, growing conditions & recommendations, and herbicide recommendations.
Information on Aloterra Energy, LLC
Aloterra Energy will operate the BCAP project area in Ohio and Pennsylvania and is working with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to sign up farmers into the BCAP program. Aloterra Energy will be working with the farmers to establish the miscanthus and to then harvest the mature product and get it to market through its biomass conversion facility. They will be operating the project area like a cooperative that will include tonnage payments and profit sharing with the farmers. The 2011 allocated BCAP budget will cover 5,344 acres to be planted in 2012 and will be contracted on a first come, first serve basis. Aloterra Energy LLC was formed in 2010 to develop biomass conversion facilities through cultivating sources of biomass crops to expand fuel marketing, distribution, and logistics operations into the biomass renewable energy market. For more information on Aloterra Energy, visit http://aloterraenergy.com