In 2007, University of Kentucky College of Agricultureforage specialists, East Kentucky Power Cooperative personnel and 20 farmers in northeastern Kentucky began a pilot project looking at the biomass potential of switchgrass, a warm-season forage native to Kentucky.

Several factors have limited the current biomass market, but Ray Smith, UK Extension forage specialist, said the project was still a success.

“We learned a whole lot and found some useful applications for the forage until a consistent biomass market develops,” said Smith, who was the primary investigator on the project.

The research project, directed by UK hay specialist Tom Keene and funded by the Kentucky Agricultural Development Fund, has yielded better recommendations for establishing switchgrass as forage, an economic spreadsheet farmers can utilize to determine if switchgrass would be a good option for their operation, documented environmental benefits of the crop and possibly a more cost effective way to make the product easier to transport and handle.

Smith said half of the original group of farmers still have productive stands of switchgrass and are cutting it for hay or grazing cattle on it, as it thrives during the hot, dry months of summer when cool-season grasses struggle. He said the producers were extremely pleased with switchgrass’ production and quality during the 2012 drought.