Ceres, Inc., based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., has begun booking switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum seed under its Blade Energy Crops label. The highly anticipated launch marks the first seed sales of non-food, low-carbon crops developed specifically as raw materials for biofuels and biopower. The company simultaneously launched a Blade Web site to support direct-to-farm sales.

The company reported that the first Blade products build on the inherent advantages of these highly efficient crops, offering double-digit biomass yield gains in many cases -- a remarkable level of improvement by crop science standards. High yields are needed since widely dispersed sources of biomass are cost-prohibitive to harvest and transport.

Anna Rath, vice president of commercial development, says that switchgrass and high-biomass sorghum can provide new options for growers, especially on underperforming acres. While she expects the bulk of Blade seed to be sold to bioenergy companies this first year, the company has set aside seed for growers interested in gaining experience with these crops as the market for biomass develops.

"With mandates for 21 billion gallons of biofuels from non-corn sources and renewed interest in cleaner-burning alternatives to coal, energy crops could offer farm operators a sizeable opportunity,” That said.

“No doubt growers with experience under their belts will have a head start as bioenergy companies begin looking for larger-scale supplies of biomass, or locations to site new facilities.”

She noted that there are various state and federal initiatives to support growers, including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), which is expected to be introduced soon by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.