Aug. 31 Agronomy Soils Field Day features session on growing switchgrass for biofuels

Is switchgrass going to become a common sight in Wisconsin farm fields? After more than three years of working on the biofuels challenge, researchers at UW-Madison want to share some of what they have learned. The many angles of growing switchgrass for biofuel is the topic of the special session at the 2011 Agronomy/Soils Field Day, set for Wednesday Aug. 31 at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station.

“Switchgrass, like many perennial grasses, translocates most of the nutrients in the plant down into the crown after it flowers,” says UW-Madison agronomist Josh Posner. “Because it translocates so much of its nutrients back into the crown, switchgrass really needs very little added nitrogen or phosphorous.”

UW-Madison soil scientist Matt Ruark, adds, “Harvest timing will be a critical management decision for growers and energy producers. Later harvest timings reduce nutrient concentrations in the switchgrass which is better for burning, but the later harvest timing can result in decreased yields.”

Because perennial grasses have many positive attributes, Posner believes they may one day make it back onto Wisconsin farms, especially with the rising cost of fuel. It will be a matter of balancing the difference between low input costs and possible returns down the line, as this production system develops, he says.

The 2011 field day also presents producers with the opportunity to learn about the latest technology available to grow today’s crops. Topic-specific tours will depart the Public Events Facility at 8:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., with the biofuels special session at 1:00. It’s possible to make three of the four tours -if you plan it just right.

The corn and soybean tour offers the economics of seed and foliar fungicides in corn and soybeans, weed control with different tillage methods, corn yield estimates and their predictive value, and the initial results of both our soybean decades study and our soil quality study.

Visitors on the forages tour will examine the nutritional status of Wisconsin alfalfa, the search for higher alfalfa yields, and the latest on meadow fescue and how best to grow it. Take the soils tour to learn about the use of FGD gypsum, nutrient management in no-till production, corn hybrid effects on nitrogen and nitrogen use efficiency, and an update from the crop and soil diagnostic service.

Lunch will be available on the grounds. During lunch, David Moll, an extension grain marketing outreach specialist in the UW-Madison Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics and the UW Renk Agribusiness Institute, will provide a grain markets update starting at 12:15 p.m.

The Arlington Research Station is located on Highway 51, about five miles south of Arlington and 15 miles north of Madison. Watch for field day signs. For more information contact the UW-Madison agronomy department at (608) 262-1390 or the soil science department at (608) 262-0485.

In the event of rain, presentations will be held inside. Sponsored by the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the UW Cooperative Extension {Certified Crop Advisors: 5 CEU credits requested}.