Better than corn: native grass

From an article in Scientific American:

Farmers in Nebraska and the Dakotas brought the U.S. closer to becoming a biofuel economy, planting huge tracts of land for the first time with switchgrass–a native North American perennial grass (Panicum virgatum) that often grows on the borders of cropland naturally–and proving that it can deliver more than five times more energy than it takes to grow it.

The bolding was mine. Growing native plants to help solve the energy and pollution problem. That has potential for good things in so many ways. However, we live on planet Earth. The Department Of Energy is still talking about using a GMO variety of switch grass and using petroleum based fertilizers:

But even a native prairie grass needs a helping hand from scientists and farmers to deliver the yields necessary to help ethanol become a viable alternative to petroleum-derived gasoline, Vogel argues. “To really maximize their yield potential, you need to provide nitrogen fertilization,” he says, as well as improved breeding techniques and genetic strains. “Low input systems are just not going to be able to get the energy per acre needed to provide feed, fuel and fiber.”

Even so, I think it is important to remember that most of use are blind in our daily lives to the costs of our current system. This is a step up politically from buying foreign oil. Highly GMO corn is already grown on that land and with petroleum based fertilizers. Instead we can have something much closer to the native fauna, with more energy than corn can produce for the same amount of fertilizer. If managed right it can also mean lower carbon emissions.

I wonder how switch grass compares to algae?

I read that Malaysia and Austrailia are cutting down woodlands for land to build algae ponds on. That sucks. I’m not an expert but I have the impression algae ponds can be built on waste lands, put on roof tops, or that algae can even be grown in tanks. I guess there are other factors involved, probably monetary for doing things in a more destructive way.

The key thoughts of the day are “if managed properly” and “an improvement on the current system”.

It is time for people who care to be more vigilant than ever now. The end of the domination of oil for energy is a crisis and as the old Chinese saying goes a crisis is a time of opportunity. We can use the crisis to get a better, new way of doing things or if we ignore what is going on we can get a sucky new way of doing things.

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2 thoughts on “Better than corn: native grass”

  1. Why do they have to GMO everything? The grass thing is definitely better than corn though. After peak oil we have to feed the whole world though and hopefulle keep a few species besides ourselves so the most important energy gain will be in conservation.

  2. I got the impression from the article that making a GMO switch grass was to get a high enough yield per acre to make it financially worth their while.

    Given that Franken-corn is now on the same land I am less bothered by GMO switch grass than I am by the continued use of petroleum derived fertilizer and unsustainable farming.

    Petroleum is running out. It takes years after making the decision to go organic to rebuild the soil and make it capable of growing crops again. Using artificial fertilizer is also causing massive amounts of nitrogen pollution in water ways and is responsible for the “dead zone” in the Gulf Of New Mexico.

    On top of all of that most of the mid west gets its fresh water from an under ground aquifer that is being used too fast for it to be replenished.

    All of these things are made worse by not only having to support wasteful animal agriculture with that land and those unsustainable practices, but now having to support SUV agriculture too.

    Forget about the US feeding the world after peak oil. We not be able to feed ourselves in the future.

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