Penn State researchers find hope in strip mining reclamation through switchgrass

May 25, 2017 |

In Pennsylvania, Penn State researchers are looking at how switchgrass might be successfully grown on former strip mining lands, of which there are many in the state, to help begin bringing life back and providing value from biofuel or ethanol at the same time.

After reviewing test results and his colleagues’ recommendations, the lead connected with researchers from switchgrass breeding programs at Cornell and Rutgers universities and selected 150 ecotypes of seedlings for the first screening crop in 2013. With the help of graduate students, 4,000 seedlings were planted on several plots of the land, with the goal of identifying varieties that fared well and those that didn’t.

Over the next three years — the time it takes for switchgrass to reach maximum yield — researchers made regular trips to the site to monitor and document plant growth, soil conditions, insect damage and plant disease. They also focused on weed control, as weeds can be detrimental to seedlings’ first year of root development.

After studying the data and pinpointing 30 switchgrass ecotypes that performed best, the team will plant an additional 1,500 seedlings this summer. At the end of the final, three-year study period, the plan is to narrow the selection to the top five performers for the land conditions and climate, and make seed from these selections available to the public for planting.

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