A Web site dedicated to the exchange of information on switchgrass and other biomass energy crops has been launched at www.BiomassConnections.com.

"The focus of the site is to allow producers and stakeholders to openly share ideas and experiences gleaned from raising and marketing switchgrass and other biomass energy crops," says site host and switchgrass farmer Andy Bater.

Switchgrass is a perennial warm-season grass native to much of the U.S., Bater explains. He says it can yield from 3 to 4 tons/acre and is adapted to a wide range of soils. Research is ongoing to develop switchgrass biomass as a feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production and as fuel for direct combustion in densified pellet and briquette forms.

"When we were researching switchgrass for our own farm we found a lot of wonderful Internet sites with information about energy crops," Bater says. "But many sites tended to be either very academic, commercial in nature or they were focused on production or resources for specific geographic areas. For instance, I recommend that growers across the country visit Penn State’s Biomass Energy Center Web site, but, rightly so, portions of that site’s content targets Pennsylvania first.

"Our intention with Biomass Connections is to provide a nationwide agricultural forum where producers can share their experiences raising switchgrass or other biomass, good or otherwise,” Bader says. “We want our visitors to tell other growers on the bulletin board about the perennial grasses like switchgrass or miscanthus that they are already growing, or of their interest in harvesting woody biomass from poplar or willows to use for renewable energy. We would also love to hear from farmers raising more traditional crops like corn, since corn stover and corn cob waste are already playing a key transitional role in the development of second-generation ethanol."

Bater also encourages visitors to discuss and share information about existing or proposed grower incentives or to work with others to establish a marketplace for their biomass material. "There is an extreme chicken-and-egg issue with biomass energy," Bater says. "We want to have fun increasing agricultural interest in these crops", Bater says. "It truly is cultivating energy!"

Bater, who left a 25-year career in electronic media to return to the farm, says the site will initially be advertiser free and he will serve as moderator to postings that are made.