Growing Switchgrass in the Corn Belt: Barriers and Drivers from an Iowa Survey

  • Sarah Varble
  • Silvia Secchi


While agriculture has dramatically increased the production of crops for energy generation, there has been limited growing of dedicated perennial crops for liquid fuel or electricity production. Adoption of dedicated perennials can be the first step in the transformation from unsustainable, energy intensive agricultural production to a system that is resilient to climate change, environmentally sustainable and financially stable for farmers. We focus on the perennial switchgrass because it is a native species and there is evidence of its favorable agronomic and environmental profile under a wide range of growing conditions. However, since switchgrass is a novel, perennial crop, there are challenges for farmers who want to grow it. This paper examines which factors are significant predictors in the interest of farmers in producing switchgrass through the analysis of the results of a survey completed by farmers in the Clear Creek watershed in rural Iowa. Knowledge of switchgrass and production on highly erodible land are both highly correlated with interest in growing switchgrass. In addition, long-term contracts with bio-refineries would help farmers decrease adoption risk. Our results can help establish policies that could influence farmers to shift production from annual crops to perennial native biomass energy crops. Switchgrass production has the potential to move agriculture from a contributor to climate change into a sector that mitigates climate change via reduction in energy-intensive inputs, such as fertilizers, production of renewable fuels, and sequestration of carbon in the soils.


Switchgrass adoption Sustainability Mitigation Adaptation Risk aversion Innovation Corn Belt 



This work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation Cyber-enabled Discovery and Innovation Award 0835607 and Coupled Natural Human Systems Award 1114978. The views expressed are solely the authors’ own. We thank the editors and two reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Illinois University-CarbondaleCarbondaleUSA
  2. 2.University of IowaIowaUSA

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