Skip to main content

North Eastern Branch Meeting–Grass, a Solution to the World?


Our beautiful world is confronted with unprecedented challenges: energy shortages, water contamination, food crisis, soil erosion, global warming…you name it. Anyone of those, if not addressed properly, would lead to very dire consequence for human beings. Changing mindset and discovering new technologies to solve the problem would always be a good idea, the archetypical example of this is our effort to find new genes for higher yield, better water usage and disease resistance. The other side of the coin is to optimize the way we manipulate the tools that are already in our hands. In this year’s North Eastern Branch Meeting of SSSA, CSSA and ASA (Soil Science Society of America, Crop Science Society of America and Agronomy Society of America), researchers cast their vision to a broader usage of grass—not just the lawn in your home yard.

Good agriculture will not be achieved by single approach, integrated solutions are always preferred, just like eco-balance can not depend solely on animal or plants, and you have to take all players into account. Grass is like a service facilitator, a linkage that can help generate integrated approach to the problems we face. Farmers using cover crops, such as red clovers, generally find their nitrogen leaching problem during the winter time is mitigated dramatically; crops ploughed down in spring may help them save precious dollars on fertilizers. Ground water quality, due to less contamination from nitrate, becomes more usable. In the meantime, water above ground is better managed by cover crop since they can no longer carry away nutrient rich topsoil.

You may wonder what people are doing with grass for generating energy when the petroleum price has fallen back to $2.7 per gallon. Well, many experts have predicted that our peak oil production worldwide have passed in 2008, a heavy oil dependent energy in the future is definitely non-sustainable. The current relatively low fuel price comes from the world financial meltdown, whose plummeting demand makes the price tag more appealing to the public. Grass, a very efficient energy collector, is favored by the industry. Not only having a higher energy production ratio (energy contained in the final product versus energy consumed in the production process) compared with corn based alcohol, they also can be grown on marginal land which is not suitable for food crops. Focusing on a grass-oriented livestock feeding system, will also mean less competition for food with human and better animal health.

However, grass is not the silver bullet, as pointed out by many professors; its relative importance should not be exaggerated. One of the concerns that I had after the meeting was that grass could be apotheosized after corn as the panacea for energy shortage, attracting unproportional and undeserved amount of social economic resource into it. A possible result might be that more arable land is converted to produce grass-based energy and food supply goes down correspondingly. Something too much is not good as well.

Speak Your Mind


Skip to toolbar