When we started looking for new energy crops we never imagined that emissions and energy balances had to be so important for sustainability. Elytrigia elongata is orginal from Eurasia and was brought to United States and Argentina many decades ago. Its low digestibility and high drought and low pH tolerance encouragedus to investigate. Now in Spain, the crop has been evaluated as one of the best promises as raw material for electricity in marginal areas.
For many years, it created little interest because it is coarse, not particularly drought tolerant and slow to establish. However, it has demonstrated its ability to thrive in subirrigated, saline soil where foxtail barley is usually the dominant grass. Tall wheatgrass is the latest-maturing grass adapted to the continental climate areas of the west and also one of the most productive.
Tall wheatgrass in North Dakota can provide cheaper biomass than highly reputed energy grasses like switchgrass because it has the ability to grow and resist intense drought events in summers, providing acceptable yields with low fertilization and costs. Mowing and baling operations are very cheap and easy since the crops losses moisture during June, July and August. Easy harvest seeds may be obtained in some plots in the farm (about 500-1000kg/ha.year).
Argentina is one of the most important Tall wheatgrasses (called "agropiros") planters in the world. TW produces biomass to allow the production and maintenance of one cow and calf per year even in the worst areas. Semiarid areas feedstock production with really low inputs from very hardy grasses like Tall wheatgrass is already a viable alternative to feed biobased industries and mitigate emissions efficiently when providing green covers and improving soils in a long term perspective.
Tim started planting tall wheatgrass in 1985. The valley flats were undulating with areas of ryegrass and barley grass saltpans. He thought its only a matter of time before the whole area would be covered with barley grass and decided to do something about it while he still could. Tall wheatgrass uses moisture from the soil profile over summer and provide winter feed. When producing for biobased industries, energy grasses give marginal but profitable results in low productive areas.
Tall Wheatgrass is often used for hay and grazing for livestock due to it's ability to produce high yields in semiarid environments. It tolerates alkaline, sodic-flooded, or even saline soils where other crops are difficult to establish or are unproductive. It is often seeded alone, however, it may be planted successfully with legumes. Irrigation is needed for a successful establishment as well as a long growing season. Its use for energy, provides a realistic stable option to feed industries.
Production of Jose Tall Wheat Grass, a salt tolerant species, as part of an integrated farm drainage management (IFDM) system in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Sequential reuse of drainage water through crops of increasing salt tolerance reduces the volume of water needing final disposal and allows for the production of higher value salt sensitive crops on land otherwise subject to retirement from agriculture. Biomass produced may be used as raw material for energy boilers or biogas.
Elytrigia elongata in Spain might achieve 1,90mts (550mm rains, sorghum typical region). Perennial biomass from Tall wheatgrass will pobably produce lower costs than sorghum under rainfed conditions where switchgrass and miscanthus cannot be established without irigation support in spring!