Farmers with land that isn’t productive for growing commodity crops such as corn, soybeans or wheat may find they can use the land to inexpensively grow energy crops that can generate a significant source of income.

Thanks to a growing demand for alternative energy sources that is fueling increased interest in energy crops, farmers could find a profitable use for land they previously viewed as marginal, said Rafiq Islam, the soil, water and bioenergy resources program leader at The Ohio State University’s South Centers in Piketon.

Growing energy crops could be an inexpensive way to provide farmers an additional source of income, said Islam, who holds joint appointments with Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

OSU Extension, OARDC and the South Centers are all part of the college.

One example of a relatively economical, easy energy crop to produce is sweet sorghum, Islam said.

“Farmers may be able to take degraded marginal land not being used for other agricultural crops and use it instead to grow sweet sorghum or other perennial grasses,” Islam said. “Sweet sorghum costs less to produce because it uses fewer nutrients and water, and the seed costs are significantly cheaper than corn.

“It is also drought tolerant and produces 10 to 12 tons of dry mass per acre.”

Farmers and other agriculture professionals including OSU Extension educators, Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel, conservation district staff and students can learn more about growing energy crops, bioproducts, residue removal, ecosystem services and soil organic matter calculator during a workshop April 9.

The Biofuels and Bioproducts Workshop on Sustainable Advanced Energy Feedstock Production for Enhanced Ecosystem Services is from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Ohio State’s Nationwide and Ohio Farm Bureau 4-H Center, 2201 Fred Taylor Drive in Columbus. The workshop is free and lunch will be provided.

Speakers for the workshop include Islam; Randall Reeder, Ohio State; Kate Lewis, BioPreferred deputy program manager, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service; Katrina Cornish, Ohio State; Dennis Hall, Ohio State; Ismail Dweikat, University of Nebraska; Jerry Grigar, state agronomist, USDA-NRCS, Michigan; and Vinayak Shedekar, Ohio State.

In addition to Islam’s presentation on sweet sorghum, the workshop will address:

  • Developing high-value bio-based commercial products.
  • High-value bio-based products (rubber and other chemicals).
  • BioProducts: Innovation at Ohio State.
  • Sustainable bioenergy cropping systems.
  • Switchgrass, miscanthus and other perennial grasses for ethanol.
  • Energy crops.
  • Evaluating and calculating soil organic carbon.

Advanced energy or bioenergy mandates and economic incentives are driving interest in growing high-yielding annual or perennial energy crops, Islam said.

“Because there is high demand to find alternative energy sources, biofuels and bioproducts are a viable option to replace imported energy sources by about 11 percent by the year 2035,” he said. “Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) is giving us complementary energy, but not enough to replace imports.

“We’ve got some 670 million acres of degraded, unutilized and underutilized lands in this country — for example, highway right-of-ways — that can be used to grow bioenergy crops. Much of it is marginal soils that we can instead make productive for energy crops that can be used to improve land, air and water quality as well as fuel rural development and job growth.”

For more information or to register for the workshop, contact Sara Strausbaugh at strausbaugh.54@osu.edu or 740-289-2071. The deadline to register is April 14.