MAYSVILLE — A new program to explore the viability of biofuels is seeking to establish 700 acres of switchgrass fields by offering financial assistance to Kentucky farmers. Switchgrass is a native Kentucky grass that has been tested as a supplemental fuel for burning with coal.
The project follows another that began in 2007 by the Kentucky Forage and Grassland Council and University of Kentucky Plant and Soil Science department.
That study established 20 research plots of switchgrass in the Buffalo Trace area and in Mason, Lewis, Bracken, Robertson and Fleming counties. Each 5-acre plot yielded five to six tons of switchgrass in the final year of the pilot program, Mason County Extension Agent Tad Campbell told the Ledger Independent in Maysville.
East Kentucky Power Cooperative participated in the initial switchgrass project.
Campbell said data on the success of the program will be generated after some final steps are completed in the next few months.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service is also offering funding assistance to farmers who plant switchgrass.
Lewis County Agriculture and Natural Resource agent Philip Konopka said switchgrass is not the cheapest crop to establish, at a cost of about $200 per acre. It is a perennial crop. Konopka said the farmers in Lewis County who were part of the pilot project "absolutely love it" and are incorporating switchgrass in their livestock production.
When existing vegetation has been controlled and switchgrass is planted, the producer will be eligible for a conservation payment of about $354, said Fleming County Extension Agent Jeff Smith. They will also receive another $100 per acre from the new switchgrass program once the crop has been harvested.
There is a 5-acre minimum and the land must be contiguous. The switchgrass stands must remain in place five years.
Nick Comer, spokesman for East Kentucky Power Cooperative, said the company is discussing the possibility of extending the original switchgrass pilot project.