Oklahoma State University


guide.jpgSwitchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is a proven performer over the widely variable production settings of Oklahoma. As a native perennial grass, it has long been recognized as an important component of the productive tallgrass prairie plant community that dominated much of the Great Plains over the millennium. Given its history, the potential for it to persist under the sometimes harsh Oklahoma climate is without question.

With the advent of agriculture in Oklahoma, switchgrass was harnessed for a variety of uses to capture benefits derived from its growth habit and its ability to produce large quantities of biomass under conditions considered less than optimal for other crops. Switchgrass is often used for soil conservation and amendment largely because its massive fibrous root system adds to the organic material, permeability, and productivity of the soil. Its potential to minimize the wind and water erosion of soil also makes switchgrass a recommended planting for roadsides, strip mine sites, pond dams, and vegetated waterways.

Switchgrass has also been tapped as forage for beef cattle. It can be grazed or fed as hay to cattle, but its potential as forage for other animals may be limited by saponins, which are chemical compounds produced by switchgrass that can cause health problems in nonruminant animals.

As outlined above, the potential of switchgrass to contribute to Oklahoma agriculture has been realized in a variety of forms and functions. However, it is the potential of switchgrass to contribute to the emerging biofuels industry that has received the most attention and has become the topic of some debate and speculation.

This web page is an activity of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service and part of a project funded by the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center in 2008.

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