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• In addition to on-farm waste for energy, long-time Clemson University agronomist and more recently biomass researcher, Jim Frederick, says there is interest among farmers to grow alternative crops that can be used for biomass.
• But, he says, farmers aren’t going to invest in growing a crop without proof there will be a market for it — and at a competitive price with more traditional crops grown in the state.
CROPS LIKE switchgrass grow well in the Southeast and have been converted to energy in small scale operations.
Would remove risk
On the other hand, Frederick points out that a sustainable and economically competitive crop, like switchgrass, can remove a great deal of the risk that farmers take annually to grow other high income potential crops.
Biomass crops, if they had a sustainable market, also would be a good replacement for traditional crops that are grown on marginal land.
The state average in South Carolina for soybeans is traditionally around 20 bushels per acre. Low production is in large part due to planting beans on marginal land that would be much better suited to growing biomass.
Frederick points out that growing biomass crops like switchgrass can also improve the productivity of much of the marginal row crop land in South Carolina.
In tests at the PeeDee station, the Clemson agronomist says growing switchgrass for one year has doubled organic matter down to three feet in the soil.
Clearly, there are many agronomic reasons to grow biomass crops. And, there are many long-term advantages to having a sustainable, affordable source of energy for future generations. How to achieve a viable transition from current coal and oil-based energy to biomass-based energy is difficult.
Frederick, who is the driving force behind the annual South Carolina BioEnergy Summit, says communication is the key.
“We continue to work with farmers to develop bioenergy crops and we continue to work with our state’s energy providers, through information exchange like the Summit, and we are making progress toward changing the energy paradigm,” he concludes.