Tuesday, April 14, 2009

High-Yielding Switchgrass the Focus of Ceres and University of Georgia Researchers

/PRNewswire/ -- Energy crop company Ceres, Inc., announced today that it will work with University of Georgia researchers to develop new high-yielding switchgrass seed varieties and improved crop management techniques for the southeastern United States. Switchgrass, which can reach yields of 6 to 10 dry tons or more in the Southeast, is widely considered an ideal raw material for next-generation biofuels and biopower.

The multi-year project will bring together plant breeders, agronomists and support scientists at Ceres and the University of Georgia to develop improved seed varieties. Field researchers will also evaluate cropping practices in the Southeast, adapting developments made by The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, an Oklahoma-based agricultural research institution with which Ceres has a long-term product development collaboration.

"This project allows us to expand our internal and collaborative plant breeding activities in a region where we believe the industry will have a strong presence," said Ceres plant breeding director Jeff Gwyn, Ph.D. He noted that University of Georgia has experienced researchers and a well-regarded collection of switchgrass breeding materials and germplasm -- the precursors of commercial seed varieties. "There's a lot of headroom for improvement and I'm confident that working together we can continue to drive up yields at a robust pace," he said.

Plant breeder Charles Brummer, Ph.D., University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said that regionally focused research will be valuable for growers across the region since Georgia and the Southeast have a unique set of environmental factors, owing to their long growing season and high rainfall.

"By trialing and selecting new products in the middle of their target market, we can make greater gains more quickly and with greater certainty," Brummer said. He noted that in addition to selecting higher-yielding plants, researchers will examine seeding rates, row spacing and no-till planting recommendations, and other crop management practices.

Ceres will have commercialization rights for products developed under the Ceres-funded project. The Noble Foundation will also participate in the project, including both field research and switchgrass breeding lines. Other aspects of the collaboration were not disclosed.

In December, Ceres launched the first switchgrass and sorghum varieties developed for bioenergy, which are sold under the company's Blade Energy Crops (www.BladeEnergy.com) label. Ceres has established the largest field-trial network for dedicated energy crops in the United States, including more than a dozen leading universities and institutions.

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