Biomass production in switchgrass across the United States: Database description and determinants of yield


Fundamental to deriving a sustainable supply of cellulosic feedstock for an emerging biofuels industry is understanding how biomass yield varies as a function of crop management, climate, and soils. Here we focus on the perennial switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) and compile a database that contains 1190 observations of yield from 39 field trials conducted across the United States. Data include site location, stand age, plot size, cultivar, crop management, biomass yield, temperature, precipitation, and information on land quality. Statistical analysis revealed the major sources of variation in yield. Frequency distributions of yield for upland and lowland ecotypes were unimodal, with mean (±SD) biomass yields of 8.7 ± 4.2 and 12.9 ± 5.9 Mg ha-1 for the two ecotypes, respectively. We looked for, but did not find, bias toward higher yields associated with small plots or preferential establishment of stands on high quality lands. A parametric yield model was fit to the data and accounted for one-third of the total observed variation in biomass yields, with an equal contribution of growing season precipitation, annual temperature, N fertilization, and ecotype. The model was used to predict yield across the continental United States. Mapped output was consistent with the natural range of switchgrass and, as expected, yields were shown to be limited by precipitation west of the Great Plains. Future studies should extend the geographic distribution of field trials and thus improve our understanding of biomass production as a function of soil, climate, and crop management for promising biofuels such as switchgrass. © 2010 by the American Society of Agronomy.