Perennial Grasses in Integrated Landscape Designs: Carbon Drawdown, Profit Potential, and Ecosystem Service Opportunities

Perennial grasses are an alternative to conventional annual crops, especially on land that is eroded, prone to flooding and low-yielding. Besides providing water quality benefits through the extensive root system, creating habitat for wildlife, and serving as an additional income stream to the farmers, perennial grasses sequester carbon and prevent erosion and thus reduce the carbon footprint of a farm. This study uses several cases in Iowa and Pennsylvania to illustrate that integrating perennial grasses into parts of the conventionally farmed fields can improve farm profitability, reduce the carbon footprint from farming, and provide additional ecosystem services. For the analysis, fields were studied using Geographic Information Systems software at a high resolution to identify parts of fields where perennial grasses might be profitably substituted for annual crops based on the topography, yield performance, soil characteristics and proximity to streams. This work suggests how landscape decision-makers can prioritize which fields and parts of fields to convert into perennial grasses for the best economic and environmental returns on investment. The findings can be applicable across regions and scalable by using the native perennial grasses and result in carbon drawdown. Beyond the agricultural greenhouse gas impact, if the perennial grasses are harvested and used as the feedstock to substitute for petroleum-based energy and polymers, they can help create carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative energy systems.

Tuesday Poster Session
Veronika Vazhnik
Stephanie Herbstritt
L. Michael Griffel
Tom L. Richard
Jason Hansen
Related Conference Themes
Land Use