Native to the American prairies, it was slowly replaced by European grasses. Cows can eat it. It works as a ground cover and prevents erosion. It can grow in all sorts of conditions without a lot of cultivation. It's also a crop that many are looking to for alternative energy.
SUNDERLAND - They may be sprouts now, but Robert Williams of Mount Toby Farm in Sunderland hopes to heat his dairy farm and home for one year with the biofuel he will reap from an acre of switchgrass. Williams is one of the few farmers in Massachusetts growing plants for "second generation" or "advanced" biofuels - biological energy sources that do not deplete corn, sugar or other food crops. Through a partnership with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Extension Program and several state agencies, 10 farmers in western Massachusetts are growing switchgrass and crambe, an oil-seed plant. "We're going to need something besides oil and propane," said Williams, a seventh-generation farmer. "We're doing a small amount now, see how it pans out." Over the last few years, as oil prices climbed to $145 a barrel and concern about the environmental effects of carbon emissions has grown, the state has pumped up biofuels. Bay State farmers are just now beginning to invest their land in the process. In Massachusetts, as elsewhere in the world, biofuels face an uphill battle against black, bubbling crude. Biofuels must straddle a line in sharing land with and not depleting food crops. And the infrastructure needed to convert biomass into fuel and distribute it does not yet exist. All the while, oil and food prices soar. The price of cereal, for example, increased by more than 60 percent from 2005 to 2006, due in part to biofuel production, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.