Oklahoma to seed over 1,000 acres to switchgrass

By Susanne Retka Schill | April 08, 2008
Web exclusive posted April 25, 2008 at 10:51 a.m. CST

Oklahoma's panhandle will be home to the first large planting of switchgrass. The Oklahoma Bioenergy Center, a state initiative championed by Gov. Brad Henry, announced the establishment of 1,100 acres of production-scale demonstration fields on April 24. The largest track of 1,000 acres near Guymon, Okla., will be planted to switchgrass this spring with smaller acreages of sorghum and switchgrass to be planted near Chickasha and Maysville in central Oklahoma.

"Rising food costs recently resulted in a pushback against renewable fuels," said Oklahoma Secretary of Energy David Fleischaker. "However, cellulosic ethanol from sources like switchgrass and sorghum are non-competitive with food sources for animals and humans and remove cellulosic ethanol from this discussion. More so, this dedicated land will allow us to demonstrate the advantages of switchgrass."

The Samuel Roberts Nobel Foundation, a non-profit plant science research institute, will manage the switchgrass demonstration. The Guymon, Okla., site is being leased from Hitch Enterprises Inc., a family-owned cattle, pork and agricultural operation. The switchgrass fields are located less than 35 miles from Hugoton, Kan., where Abengoa Bioenergy New Technologies is constructing a 13 MMgy cellulosic ethanol plant. The OBC switchgrass demonstration project will also involve California-based Ceres Inc. who will provide seed and agronomic direction and the Idaho National Laboratory will develop the harvest and processing system in coordination with Abengoa Bioenergy.

Signed into law in 2007, the OBC brings together the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the Noble Foundation with the goal of initiating a biofuels industry in Oklahoma.