Grasses for power? Sunbelt Expo shows how - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Grasses for power? Sunbelt Expo shows how

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  The Sunbelt Ag Expo is looking at using grasses to power everything from your car to heating your home.

The Expo plans to focus on bio-fuel and energy crops. While much of it is still in the research and development stage, some emerging technology promises to be the future of energy creation.

Most people think of bio-fuel as being corn based. At Sunbelt Ag Expo all the buzz is over a plant that doesn't appear to be much more than grass, but Switch Grass is the new energy crop. It's caught on in Tennessee and now people are traveling to Moultrie from Alabama and Florida to get a look at this energy crop.

It looks like a field of over-grown weeds, but this field of Switch Grass is packed with power.

"Farmers in Georgia are looking for an alternative crops and this is a good crop to grow with an emerging market coming on," said Frank Hardimon, Blade Energy Director of Sales.

It's caught on in Tennessee where 6,000 acres are being grown for an ethanol plant and it's peaked Georgia farmer's interest.

"In Tennessee there is a working pilot plant and they're converting biomass from switch grass into cellulose derived ethanol and there's a huge movement also to pelletize this material and co-fire it with coal and using it as an option to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Dennis Hancock, UGA Extension Forage Specialist.

It's not your typical row crop. The maintenance is less and with a long root system it's drought resistant.

"It's low maintenance, very low maintenance, it's an easy crop to grow it seems like it grows in several different dirt types," said Michael Williams, Sunbelt Ag Expo Farm Manager.

Miscanthus is another energy crop newly planted in the fields at Expo, Georgia has a unique advantage to growing these grasses.

"It grows quite well here, you've got plenty of moisture generally, you've got good heat patterns and the ability for this crop to grow is pretty good," said Hardimon.

Organizers say they're seeing a lot of interest from younger farmers willing to give this new segment of energy crops a go despite one of the pitfalls.

"Not a lot of options for weed control options out there with switch grass currently, you can spray for broad leaves and take care of those with grasses," said Hardimon.

Hoping the technology will come through, giving them another way to make a profit with their land.

In October, one of the field demonstrations will be how to harvest this crop. They say it's a lot like Alfalfa which is also being pushed as an alternative feed source for dairy and beef cattle.

More than 350 turned out for Thursday's Field Day. Organizers say that's good for the current economic climate. This year's Expo is set for October 19th, 20th, and 21st.


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