The economic potential of cellulosic biomass from switchgrass has heretofore been evaluated using estimates of farm costs based on extrapolation from experimental data and budget estimates. The objective of the project reported here was to estimate the cost of production that would be experienced by farmers on commercial production situations. Switchgrass was produced as a biomass crop on commercial-scale fields by ten contracting farmers located from northern North Dakota to southern Nebraska. Results showed a wide range of yields and costs across the five production years and ten sites, with an overall average cost of $65.86 Mg-1 of biomass dry matter, and annualized yield of 5.0 Mg ha-1. The low-cost half of the producers were able to produce at an average cost of $51.95 Mg-1 over the 5-year period. When projected to a full 10-year rotation, their cost fell further to $46.26 Mg-1. We conclude that substantial quantities of biomass feedstock could have been produced in this region at a cost of about $50 Mg-1 at the farm gate, which translates to about $0.13/l of ethanol. These results provide a more reliable benchmark for current commercial production costs as compared to other estimates, which range from $25 to $100 Mg-1.
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