His research showed that the disease would not appear
on a large scale, and only low levels of the disease have appeared in
the last 10 years. He explains that growers are now using cultivars
that flower late in the spring when warm, dry weather conditions inhibit
the growth of the fungus that causes blind seed disease. Rainy summers
may produce a little more of the disease, as may the planting of older
cultivars. But overall, blind seed disease is under control.
As for weeds, farmers have had to adjust their management
practices without burning to control these pests. Agronomist George
W. Mueller-Warrant conducted research showing that certain weeds were
more easily controlled when the straw was chopped back onto the fields,
while other weeds required different herbicides for their control.
In general, weeds are still being adequately controlled.
He is now developing maps using geographic information system tools
and records from grass seed testing and cultivar certification organizations
to study how different weed distributions move through time over a large
region. Mueller-Warrant wants to find out why weeds grow in certain
areas but not others and use this information to develop better management
Every year more than 1 million tons of straw are left
after grass seed fields are harvested. Straw has little direct economic
value to the seed farmers because it costs so much to transport.
Many farmers who do not chop their straw back onto their
fields sell itone-half million tonsto brokers who export
it to Asian markets, where it is used in livestock feed.
Looking for alternative ways for farmers to make a profit,
the scientists are studying methods of turning straw into electricity
or other value-added products, such as alcohol, on the farm, so that
it doesn't have to be shipped elsewhere for conversion. "We're
cooperating with a coalition of partners in Spokane County, Washington,
including farmers, industry, Bonneville Power Administration, and a
local utility company, as well as environmental groups, who will set
up an on-farm test facility to look at different ways to turn straw
into energy products," research leader Gary M. Banowetz says.
Just as farmers in the Midwest are turning corn into ethanol,
grass seed growers in the Pacific Northwest may be able to do the same
thing with straw. Banowetz explains that the process to turn straw into
alcohol is more difficultand more expensivethan with corn.
To reduce the costs, his laboratory has hired a postdoctoral researcher
to find genes that are turned on after grass is cut and combine portions
of these genes with genes that control cellulose-degrading enzymes to
speed the process of straw breakdown for faster fermentation. The laboratory
is also cooperating with engineers to make an on-farm reactor to turn
straw into gas that can be used to power a generator or to produce alcohol.
Even if farmers leave half the straw on the field to reduce
erosion, and the process of ethanol production is 70 percent efficient,
33 million gallons of ethanol could be produced annually from the remaining
grass straw of the Northwest, according to Banowetz.By David Elstein, Agricultural
Research Service Information Staff.
For more information about this research, see the August
1997 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.
This research is part of Integrated Agricultural Systems,
an ARS National Program (#207) described on the World Wide Web at www.nps.ars.usda.gov.
The scientists mentioned in this article are with the
USDA-ARS National Forage
Seed Production Research Center, 3450 Campus Way, Corvallis, OR
97331-7102; phone (541) 738-4125, fax (541) 738-4160, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org,
"Putting Out the (Grass) Fire" was published in the
issue of Agricultural Research magazine.