With the push for biofuels nationwide farmers may be encouraged to plant corn where environmentally friendly grasses are currently grown. That doesn't mean they can't sequester soil carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A recent study by Ron Follett, a scientist with USDA's Ag Research Service, is one of the most comprehensive studies conducted so far that addresses the effects of replacing native grasses with corn. The results show the benefits of no-till when making the switch from bromegrass to corn.
The research team found yield rates were decreased because of extended drought conditions, but the total amount of carbon stayed the same. Follett's team collected soil samples at three depths to analyze the amount of soil carbon at each depth. According to USDA, the rates of loss of soil organic carbon previously sequestered in the top two depths by the bromegrass were offset by similar rates of increase in newly sequestered carbon from the corn.
There are currently 35 million acres of bromegrass and other plants grown nationwide in exchange for $1.8 billion per year as part of USDA's Conservation Reserve Program.