Switchgrass is a potential feedstock for cellulosic bioenergy production. Weed competition from annual grass during the establishment year can reduce switchgrass establishment and resulting productivity, but the relationship between early season grass densities and outcomes of competition are not well understood. We measured how a range of giant and yellow foxtail densities in the establishment year influenced switchgrass establishment and resulting productivity in the first production year (second year of the growing season). In two of the three site–yr more than four foxtail plants m−2 reduced switchgrass plant densities below documented thresholds of establishment success. A lesser effect of foxtails in the third site–year suggested that higher switchgrass emergence rates reduced foxtail competitive ability during establishment. Effects on yield were consistent over the three site–yr. The yield (10.96 Mg ha−1 ± 0.77) decreased rapidly as foxtail density increased. One foxtail plant m−2 reduced switchgrass yield in the first production year by 25%, and yield loss was 90% or greater at densities > 50 foxtail plants m−2. Although switchgrass can establish in the presence of foxtail competition, these weed species should be controlled to maximize yields in the first production year.
Nomenclature: Giant foxtail, Setaria faberi Herrm.; yellow foxtail, Setaria pumila (Poir.) Roemer & J.A. Schultes; switchgrass, Panicum virgatum L.