While there is still much work to be done, especially in the area of establishing markets, some of these energy crops are showing promise for Georgia and the Southeast.
Looking at pellets
There isn’t a market in Georgia right now for the grasses, but Lee says he hopes markets will develop. “The first markets in Georgia will probably be for pellets,” he says.
University of Georgia researchers also are looking — for the fifth year at the Expo site — at improved alfalfa varieties. “This is a crop that has been long forgotten in Georgia,” says Dennis Hancock, UGA Extension forage specialist. “Back in the 1950s and 1960s, there were about 60,000 acres of alfalfa in Georgia. We can grow it well. The challenge has been in getting varieties that are well-developed and other technology such as insecticides.”
Now, growers have very good tools for growing alfalfa, he says, and they are relatively low-cost tools. This has led to a resurgence in growing alfalfa, for commercial hay operations, the horse hay market, and dairy operations. In addition, alfalfa is being grown for beef cattle producers who are using it as a supplemental feed and also as a diet for their forage-finished animals, says Hancock.
University of Georgia has developed Bulldog 805 and Bulldog 505 improved alfalfa varieties, he says. “These varieties are highly resistant to a lot of disease problems, and we have a lot of control over insect problems as well.”
Researchers also have been looking at gypsum applications on alfalfa, says Hancock. “Alfalfa is very sensitive to low soil pH and aluminum toxicity in the soil. Gypsum is very good at developing roots. We’ve taken soil samples at about 3 feet deep and found that there are more than 100 more roots in the gypsum-treated alfalfa than in that which has not been treated. Even at the shallow root depths, there’s a significant increase in root development. It improves the potassium efficiency fertilization of alfalfa. It also translates into yields, about a 10 to 20-percent increase in yield where we’re using gypsum,” he says.
Gypsum is being applied on the alfalfa at a rate of 4 tons per acre when the crop is planted, says Hancock.
“This is not a crop for the faint of heart. It takes good management and good soil, but the results are good in terms of high quality,” he says.