The first seed sales have begun for crops developed specifically to be feedstocks for biofuels production. Thousand Oaks, California-based company Ceres, Inc. is now booking orders for switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum seed under its Blade Energy Crops label.
Anna Rath, vice president of commercial development, says that switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum can provide new options for growers, especially on underperforming acres. While she expects the bulk of Blade seed to be sold to bioenergy companies this first year, the company has set aside seed for growers interested in gaining experience with these crops as the market for biomass develops.
The company reports that, in many cases, these Blade products offer double-digit gains in biomass yield. High yields are beneficial to create a concentrated source of the biomass, instead of harvesting and transporting the biomass in smaller quantities over larger areas.
“ With mandates for 21 billion gallons of biofuels from non-corn sources and renewed interest in cleaner-burning alternatives to coal, energy crops could offer farm operators a sizeable opportunity . No doubt growers with experience under their belts will have a head start as bioenergy companies begin looking for larger-scale supplies of biomass, or locations to site new facilities,” Rath said.
She noted that there are various state and federal initiatives to support growers, including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which is expected to be introduced soon by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Blade seed products include two improved switchgrass seed varieties — EG 1101 and EG 1102 — and two new high-biomass sorghum hybrids — ES 5200 and ES 5201.
EG 1101 is a lowland-type switchgrass bred for greater biomass yields and better establishment. It has high biofuel conversion potential, and has shown superior conversion characteristics for biochemical and thermochemical processes. A similar cultivar, EG 1102, is adapted farther north than EG 1101. Several switchgrass varieties suited to mid and northern latitudes are also available from Blade.
ES 5200 and ES 5201 are two high-biomass sorghum hybrids that offer high yield potential in single-cut harvest systems. Since the plants generally do not produce grain heads until very late in the season, if at all, they continue growing —and producing more biomass — until early autumn or the first killing freeze. Blade will also have sorghum hybrids suited to multi-cut harvest systems.
Ceres, Inc. is a leading developer and marketer of high-yielding energy crops. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, sorghum, miscanthus, energycane, and short-rotation woody crops.