A multi-state USDA-sponsored research project, CenUSA, last week released a new video explaining current challenges of nutrient runoff in the Mississippi River basin and the role of native grasses in reducing that runoff.
The group, a collaboration of several Midwestern Universities and led by Iowa State, is focused first on developing a regional system for advanced biofuels production, and second on promoting the use of perennials like switchgrass to mitigate runoff and produce biofuels.
Perennial grasses, once common throughout the Midwest, have been shown to reduce sediment and phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer runoff by as much as 90% compared to row crops, the group says.
Current work includes review of how grasses can affect runoff and what environmental effects growing grasses has not only on the landscape, but also on the supply chain and lifecycle of the crop.
Though Jamie Derr, biocrops farmer, sees big benefits to the plan as far as cost of inputs, he notes that farmers are a large part of the puzzle.
"I guess it comes down to not trying to make the farmers's system any more complicated or time consuming than it already is," Derr says in the video. "Really just having the market for the biomass I see as being the big point."
The group says the addition of native grasses would improve soil and water quality and provide a wildlife habitat. Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey says if the benefits are presented, farmers will respond.
"One of the things that farmers are always looking to do is to do a better job next year," Northey says. "They're all looking for changes and opportunities and I believe we can leverage that into some great, positive changes for the environment, for the economics within our rural communities."
The video, "Enhancing the Mississippi River Watershed with Perennial Bioenergy Crops," features interviews with Northey, in addition to Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Also featured are Ken Moore, CenUSA Bioenergy Project Director and Professor of Agronomy, Iowa State University; and co-project directors, Cathy Kling, economics professor at Iowa State University and Jason Hill, assistant Professor of Bioproducts and Biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota.
View the video below.