U.S. energy crops resisting drought so far

By Anna Simet | July 09, 2012

While the drought in the U.S. is beginning to take a significant toll on some of the nation’s crops—particularly in the Midwest and the Corn Belt—it seems most energy crops are hanging on, at least for now.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that in primary growing states for corn and soybeans, 22 percent of the crop is in poor or very poor condition, as are 43 percent of the nation’s pastures and rangelands. To the dismay of farmers already affected by the drought, the USDM forecast for the week of July 9 said farmers can expect enhanced chances for below-normal rainfall in most areas, as well as above average temperatures.

But the outlook for energy crops in development isn’t so bleak. Steve Flick, board chairman of 600-plus farmer-owned cooperative Show Me Energy, a Biomass Crop Assistance Program project area, said drought tolerant characteristics and a certain planting method are what have kept them faring alright.

The 39-county BCAP Project Area 1 is located in central and western Missouri and eastern Kansas, and is growing lowland and highland native mix grasses.

Establishment of the area went well in early spring, Flick said, because the species the co-op selected are very tough and don’t need much moisture to get started.”[But] the farmers who planted native grasses the previous June are waiting for rain,” he said, adding that the existing stands of monocultures of native grasses are alright right now because they are so deep rooted.

Drought circumstances are another reason that Flick said the co-op suggested polyculture—using multiple crops in the same space—to its members to mitigate drought problems. “If it’s wet in the spring and dry in the summer, switchgrass will prevail, but if it’s opposite, big blue and Indian [grasses] will shine,” he said.