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Innovations in Warm Season Grass Biomass Crops Roger Samson · PDF file • Samson, R., E. Delaquis, B. Dean, J. DeBruyn, and U. Eggimann. 2016. Switchgrass Agronomy Guide 2016, Ontario

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  • Canadian Biomass Supply Chain Improvements to Increase Investment Opportunities

    Innovations in Warm Season Grass Biomass Crops Roger Samson REAP-CANADA Montreal

  • •Canada’s leading agency in developing perennial herbaceous

    biomass crops since 1991

    •International Agricultural Research &

    Development Programs since 1997

    •International reputation for innovation

    in breeding, agronomy and

    market development of switchgrass

  • Big Bluestem Advantages: Good biomass quality from high stem content, drought tolerance, low maintenance once established

    Switchgrass Advantages: Large de-hulled seed, quicker to establish and to peak production, easier to harvest


    • In Eastern Canada ~1500ha in Ont and QC

    • Nearly all is an unimproved switchgrass collection found near Cave- in-Rock Illinois in 1958

    • Yields of 10 t/ha on better land

    and 7-8t/ha on average land

  • Lessons Learned

    • Establishment has been challenging

    • Easy to manage & harvest stands

    • Switchgrass head smut has emerged as an important disease in older (8yr plus) monoculture stands of switchgrass

    • Slow to develop bioenergy markets have been the main problem, need more effort on developing biomaterial and agri-food markets

  • Biomass Supply Chain Network Priority Needs

    Short-Term: Market Opportunities for Purpose Grown Biomass of Switchgrass and Miscanthus- Characterize most promising markets, key challenges and opportunities ,

    prioritization Longer Term: Developing Biomass Crops for Marginal

    Lands -especially low opportunity cost lands with surplus seasonal moisture

    Market Opportunities for Purpose Grown Biomass:

  • Switchgrass (SG) vs. Wheat Straw • SG fiber length and strength is greater • SG has greater ability to resist compressive forces • Overwintered SG is ~.3% N , wheat straw is 0.7-1.0% N • Widely tested for biocomposites and pulping applications • Historically used for housing as it is resistant to decomposition

  • Switchgrass is a Premium Livestock Bedding


    Ammonia Absorption

    Slow Decomposing

    Low Microbial Activity

    Animal Comfort


    Readily Dedusted

    High Quality Manure

  • Switchgrass is a Premium Horticultural Mulch


    Weed Control

    Plant Response

    Slow Decomposing

    Soil Building

    Moisture Conserving


  • Emerging Feedstock Development Successes

    • Improved agronomy and breeding is enabling the crops to be easy to establish for 6-8 year crop rotations.

    • Big bluestem-switchgrass mixtures appear promising for optimizing yields and improving biomass quality.

    • Breeding progress is excellent for native warm

    season (C4) perennial grasses (~1.5%/yr)

    (not as moisture limited like C3 grasses).

  • At 1 month after planting, superior plants (tall erect and single tiller) are selected for improved seedling vigor and low tillering

    IMPROVING SWITCHGRASS MORPHOLOGY Selection at the seedling stage has been found to be

    effective and resource efficient

  • 10 Years of Breeding to Improve Cave-in-Rock

    1st year Space Plant Nursery following Fall 2006 seed collection of old field in QC

    Annual transplants uniform and erect by August 2015

    By August 2016, mature stand of upland switchgrass has been transformed to an erect canopy like lowland switchgrass

  • REAP’s Comprehensive Breeding Strategy to Improve Warm Season Grasses

    1. Genetic strategies to build a better solar collector and improve

    fibre quality

    2. Optimize the diversity of beneficial growth enhancing biological organisms in plants

  • Research and Development of Biological Organisms

    • REAP’s native grass field breeding research has been undertaken without

    fertilization since the 1990’s to encourage plant growth-promoting bacteria • Elite selections of high biomass producing native plants are ideal

    candidates for sourcing crop beneficial fungal endophytes • University of Guelph/REAP-Canada partnership to identify crop beneficial

    endophytes in REAP’s elite breeding selections of big bluestem • McGill University/REAP-Canada partnership to identify and characterize

    endophytes in elite switchgrass selections made by REAP-Canada. Subsequent patenting of an endophyte strain (Bacillus methylotrophicus B- 26) and method of using the strain to increase drought resistance in other crops.

  • Switchgrass Breeding Innovations

    1) REAP evolved an annual breeding cycle in 2013 (all U.S. programs were using 2-7 year breeding cycles on upland switchgrass)

    2) Emphasis on juvenile plant selection from large numbers of plants (3000) per annual cycle in the greenhouse

    3) Development of a creeping nursery concept within the annual breeding cycle (pollen is transferred from best plants of old nurseries to new)

    4) Tightly spacing plants to create a sward like effect in evaluation nurseries

    5) The only long term temperate warm season grass breeding program to not apply fertilizer to encourage diverse Plant Growth-Promoting organisms

  • Summary

    • Farmers are embracing warm season grass biomass feedstocks as a means to grow the bioeconomy and the agri-food sector

    • A comprehensive market study is urgently needed

    • Innovations in rapid morphological selection methods of breeding perennial biomass crops are being made

    • Significant potential for development of

    PGP organisms through plant breeding

  • • Burton, G. W. (1982). Improved recurrent restricted phenotypic selection increases bahiagrass forage yields. Crop Science, 22(5), 1058-1061.

    • Delaquis,E., R. Samson, P. Seguin, A. Mustafa, and H. Martel, “Impacts of Improved Switchgrass and Big Bluestem Selections on Yield, Morphological Characteristics, and Biomass Quality,” Advances in Agriculture, vol. 2014, Article ID 192824, 14 pages, 2014. doi:10.1155/2014/192824

    • Gagne-Bourque ,F . et al (2015) Accelerated growth rate and increased drought stress resilience of the model grass Brachypodium distachyon colonized by Bacillus subtilis B26. PLoS ONE 10(6):e0130456. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0130456.

    • Gagne-Bourque, F., K. Aliferis,P. Seguin, M. Rani, R. Samson and S. Jabaji S. (2013). Isolation and characterization of indigenous endophytic bacteria associated with leaves of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) cultivars. J. Appl. Microbiol. 114 836–853. 10.1111/jam.12088.

    • Gagné-Bourque F., Bertrand A., Claessens A., Aliferis K. A. and Jabaji S. (2016) Alleviation of drought stress and metabolic changes in Timothy (Phleum pratense L.) colonized with Bacillus subtilis B26. Front. Plant Sci. 7, 584, doi: 10.3389/fpls.2016.00584 (2016).

    • Jabaji, S. , P. Seguin, R. Samson, and F. Gagné-Bourque . 2012. L’isolation et la caractérisation des endophytes du panic érigé (Panicum virgatum) . MAPAQ project #809112.

    • Madakadze, I. C., Coulman, B. E., Peterson, P., Stewart, K. A., Samson, R., and Smith, D. L. (1998). Leaf area development, light interception, and yield among switchgrass populations in a short- season area. Crop Science, 38(3), 827-834

    • Madakadze, I., B. E. Coulman, K. Stewart, P. Peterson, R. Samson, and D. L. Smith, 1998 “Phenology and tiller characteristics of big bluestem and switchgrass cultivars in a short growing season area,” Agronomy Journal, vol. 90, no. 4, pp. 489–495, 1998.

    • Samson, R., Mani, S., Boddey, R., Sokhansanj, S., Quesada, D., Urquiaga, S., Reis, V. and C. Ho Lem. 2005. The potential of C4 perennial grasses for developing a global BIO-HEAT industry. Critical Reviews in Plant Science 24: 461-495.

    • Samson, R., E. Delaquis, and G. MacInnis, Enhancing the Commercial Viability of Switchgrass on Marginal Farmland through Plant Breeding, 2014, http://www.reap-,%20Delaquis,%20MacInnis%202013.pdf.

    • Samson, R., E. Delaquis, B. Dean, J. DeBruyn, and U. Eggimann. 2016. Switchgrass Agronomy Guide 2016, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food/Ontario Biomass Producers Cooperative. 90 pp.

    • Smart, A. J., Vogel, K. P., Moser, L. E., & Stroup, W. W. (2003). Divergent selection for seedling tiller number in big bluestem and switchgrass. Crop science, 43(4), 1427-1433.

    Selected References - Switchgrass breeding on marginal farmland - Samson, D

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