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Perennial Energy Grasses: Resilient Crops In A Changing European Agriculture

Danilo Scordia, Salvatore Cosentino

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This review describes the multiple utilization of perennial grasses as resilient crops for a multifunctional agriculture. Beyond its role of producing food, feed and fiber, the concept of multifunctional agriculture includes many other functions, such as ecosystem services, renewable energy production and a contribution to the socio-economic viability of rural areas. Traditionally used for feed, some perennial grasses—known as perennial energy grasses (e.g., miscanthus—Miscanthus × giganteus Greef et Deuter, giant reed—Arundo donax L., switchgrass—Panicun virgatum L., reed canary grass—Phalaris arundinacea L.)—have been recommended as a biomass source for both energy and non-energy applications, and ecosystem services. Perennial grasses are lignocellulosic, low-cost feedstock, able to grow in variable environments including marginal lands. Due to their high yield, resilient traits, biomass composition, energy and environmental sustainability, perennial grasses are a candidate feedstock to foster the bio-based economy and adapt to a changing agriculture. However, perennial grasses for biomass production are largely undomesticated crops, or are at early stages of development. Hence, a great potential for improvements is expected, provided that research on breeding, agronomy, post-harvest logistic and bioconversion is undertaken in order to deliver resilient genotypes growing and performing well across a broad range of environmental conditions, climatic uncertainty, marginal land type and end-use destinations.