Iowa State University research examines switchgrass feasibility in crop fields

Newly published research by Iowa State University examines converting underperforming areas in Iowa crop fields to switchgrass, which could help farmers decrease costs while potentially providing an economic benefit from a future bioenergy crop market.

An article about the project appeared recently in GCB Bioenergy (, an international journal that publishes research about biological and environmental sciences and the production of fuels from plants, algae and waste. Emily Heaton, an associate professor of agronomy; Alejandro Plastina, an assistant professor of economics; and Elke Brandes, a postdoctoral researcher in agronomy at the time of the study, were the authors of the paper titled: Where can switchgrass production be more profitable than corn and soybean? An integrated subfield assessment in Iowa, USA.

The researchers studied how to grow dedicated bioenergy crops without converting land already under perennial cover. They identified areas within fields suitable for conversion from corn/soybean to switchgrass as indicated by publicly available agronomic, management and economic information.

Under the assumptions that land is fully owned by farmers, and switchgrass sells for $55 per short ton, their analysis showed that 4.3 percent of the corn/soybean area in Iowa could break even when converted to switchgrass yielding up to 4 tons per acre. In some counties, converting corn/soybean areas to switchgrass could add up to millions of dollars in total annualized producer benefits. With a future bioenergy crop market for switchgrass, the researchers conclude their approach could be used beyond Iowa and could be applied to other intensively farmed regions globally with similar data availability.

This and other studies on the economics of conservation practices in Iowa are available at