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No-tillers have a stake in the production of ethanol. Currently, most ethanol is produced from corn, which has driven up demand and prices. But the consensus among researchers is that corn grain eventually will be replaced by other raw materials, possibly including crop residue, which could a revenue source for no-tillers.
Another, and perhaps more likely possibility, is that corn grain will be replaced by other biomass materials that are more efficient to convert to ethanol. Switchgrass is one of the most-often mentioned possibilities. Switchgrass is a warm-season perennial that can potentially produce 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, compared to 400 gallons for corn.
Whether no-tillers could produce switchgrass to capitalize on the demand for the new fuel crop remains an open question. However, Ohio State University soil scientists have conducted 3 years of switchgrass research and found that no-till production is feasible in Ohio, and thus presumably possible in other Midwestern states.
It will be at least another year before the Ohio State crop is harvested and its production and economic efficiencies evaluated. Researcher Rattan Lal says the goal is to see how much biomass switchgrass grown in Ohio can produce and what impact the crop has on soil properties and soil carbon sequestration.
He notes that the roots of switchgrass are efficient carbon storehouses, maintaining soil quality even after the plant has been harvested. This property is attractive to Lal, who encourages farmers to use alternatives other than corn residue for ethanol. He also pushes farmers throughout…