Efficient methods of estimating switchgrass biomass supplies

Marty R. Schmer, Robert B. Mitchell, Kenneth P. Vogel, Walter H. Schacht, David B. Marx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is being developed as a biofuel feedstock for the United States. Efficient and accurate methods to estimate switchgrass biomass feedstock supply within a production area will be required by biorefineries. Our main objective was to determine the effectiveness of indirect methods for estimating biomass yields and composition of switchgrass fields. Indirect measurements were conducted in eastern Nebraska from 2003 to 2007 in which switchgrass biomass yields were manipulated using three nitrogen rates (0 kg N ha -1, 60 kg N ha -1, and 120 kg N ha -1) and two harvest periods (August and post-killing frost). A modified Robel pole was used to determine visual obstruction, elongated leaf height, and canopy height measurements. Prediction models from the study showed that elongated leaf height, visual obstruction, and canopy height measurements accounted for >91%, >90%, and >82% of the variation in switchgrass biomass, respectively. Regression slopes were similar by cultivar ("Cave-in-Rock" and "Trailblazer"), harvest period, and across years indicating that a single model is applicable for determining biomass feedstock supply within a region, assuming similar harvesting methods. Sample numbers required to receive the same level of precision were as follows: elongated leaf height<canopy height<visual obstruction. Twenty to 30 elongated leaf height measurements in a field could predict switchgrass biomass yield within 10% of the mean with 95% confidence. Visual obstruction is recommended on switchgrass fields with low to variable stand densities while elongated leaf height measurements would be recommended on switchgrass fields with high, uniform stand densities. Incorporating an ocular device with a Robel pole provided reasonable frequency estimates of switchgrass, broadleaf weeds, and grassy weeds at the field scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-250
Number of pages8
JournalBioenergy Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010


  • Bioenergy
  • Indirect measurement
  • Sward height
  • Switchgrass
  • Visual obstruction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Energy (miscellaneous)


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