Emily Heaton | Assistant Professor of Agronomy, Iowa State University
Giant Grass for Bedding?
Iowa now boasts >1,100 acres of giant miscanthus (Miscanthus × giganteus) and the bedding market may be poised to increase acreage further. The perennial grass is being grown for the University of Iowa’s power plant as part of their Zero Coal by 2025 effort, and now positive experience with the crop for livestock bedding could expand miscanthus markets beyond bioenergy. AGgrowTech, the North Carolina-based company that manages the University of Iowa’s miscanthus fields, has been developing bedding products to meet the10-12% increase in US poultry production projected by the USDA in the next decade. Could Iowa’s thriving poultry industry be able to switch from out-of-state wood to home-grown grass bedding?
AGgrowTech partnered with North Carolina State University and found that miscanthus bedding is better for poultry than traditional wood shavings bedding. In response, over 1,000 acres were recently planted in Maryland for poultry bedding and similar plans are being considered in Iowa. Major poultry producers in Northwestern and Eastern Iowa are testing miscanthus bedding for their production operations. If the producers like the product, it would take about 2,000 acres of miscanthus to supply some of Iowa’s bigger poultry operations.
Benefits of Miscanthus Bedding
Miscanthus bedding and production compare favorably to traditional wood shaving bedding imported from out of state. These benefits include:
- longer lasting bedding
- 3x more biomass per acre
- less processing for final product
- better feed conversion ratio
- grown locally
- Reduces poultry ammonia emissions
- better compost quality
- reduces nitrate leaching from fields (compared to corn/soy)
- reduces soil erosion (compared to corn/soy)
- increases soil organic matter (compared to corn/soy)
- Improves bird foot health
- 3x more absorbent
- 20% less moisture
- Sap-free bedding
- Less bird mortality
Growing miscanthus for bedding that can then be composted and applied to farmland as a slow-release fertilizer and soil amendment seems an exciting option for Iowa agriculture. It could help farmers diversify grain operations while protecting soil and water resources. It could also help poultry operators buy bedding locally that increases animal quality along with their bottom line. An added bonus is that using locally-grown miscanthus for bedding would also help reduce Iowa’s greenhouse gas footprint.
More information about biomass in Iowa can be found in ISU biomass’s past and future blogs as well as ISUBiomass on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Details regarding miscanthus bedding can be found on AGgrowTech’s website: https://aggrowtech.com/.