Long-Term Productivity of Thirteen Lowland and Upland Switchgrass Ecotypes in the Mediterranean Region
Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) has been identified in the USA as an ideal biomass crop, in relation to its wide environmental suitability, mainly linked to the availability of both upland and lowland ecotypes, allowing the possibility of growing this species in most of the North American region. Switchgrass is conventionally grown for forage, but more recently, it has been considered
as a model biofuel crop. Early European studies on switchgrass as a bioenergy crop started in the late 1990s, when a multi-location field trial was established in Greece (Aliartos) and Italy (Ozzano) to compare the productivity of 13 switchgrass genotypes, including upland (Carthage, Blackwell, Caddo, CIR, Forestburg, SU 94-1, Summer) and lowland (Alamo, Kanlow, Pangburn, SL 93-2, SL 93-3,
SL94-1) genotypes. The scope was to identify the most suitable ecotype within each environment and, possibly, the best performing variety. The trials lasted 17 years (1998–2014) in Greece and 13 years (1998–2010) in Italy. While in Italy the trial was rainfed and unfertilized, in Greece, where the soil was marginal, drip irrigation was always applied, and the plots were fertilized regularly. The biomass yields in Greece, as averages across the 17 years, were similar for the lowland and upland varieties
(11.5 vs. 11.1 Mg ha1, respectively), while in Italy, as averages across the 13 years, the di erences were relevant: 15.4 vs. 11.3 Mg ha1 for lowland and upland, respectively. Alamo (lowland) was the most productive variety, both in Greece and Italy, with average annual yields of 12.7 and 16.6 Mg ha-1, respectively; CIR in Greece (10.1 Mg ha1) and Forestburg in Italy (9.1 Mg ha1) (both upland) were the least productive genotypes. The present results demonstrate the good suitability of switchgrass as biomass crop for the Mediterranean climate. Despite the very marginal soil (i.e., very shallow and with a sandy texture) in the Greek trial, the application of regular fertilization and irrigation produced biomass yields above 11 Mg ha1 (grand mean) in the present 17-year-long study.