A three-year study by a team of Texas AgriLife Research scientists has begun to determine how a switch of land use from traditional cotton production in the southwest Cotton Belt to switchgrass or biomass sorghum “would affect the carbon balance, hydrologic cycle and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Texas AgriLife announced the project as part of the national effort “to ensure the U.S. can reach the goal outlined in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The act requires the U.S. to produce 36 billion gallons per year of biofuels by 2022.”

The Texas research will be lead by Nithya Rajan, Ph.D., AgriLife research agronomist at Vernon, Texas. The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture under the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The grant funding totals $500,000.

The research is expected to confirm positive changes on “hydrological and biogeochemical processes” with a switch to biofuel feedstock production. “The thought is that the second-generation biofuel feedstock systems will reduce the negative environmental effects associated with the conventional, intensively managed cropping systems currently in the region,” according to the research announcement.

Rajan is reported as saying the majority of land-use change studies previously conducted in semi-arid regions have involved the transitions from natural to agricultural systems or the return of agricultural systems to natural ones.

"Our study will build on the established, documented methodologies for investigating such land-use changes, but we will apply them to purely agroecosystems," she said.

The study is designed to answer questions related to the transition to farming systems that "can expand our capacity to produce environment-friendly fuels in a manner that does not compete with primary food and fiber production and benefits the environment through the conservation of existing resources," Rajan said.

The general description of the project outlines highly sophisticated data collection, modeling and satellite remote-sensing methods with measurements continuously for the next three years.