MILLERTON, IA (AP)--Growing switchgrass, a native prairie grass, for its environmental benefits also could produce profits for farmers if it is burned instead of coal to produce electricity.

If test burns at Alliant Energy's generating plant in Ottumwa succeed, the future for switchgrass could be bright.

Replacing 5% of the Wyoming coal now burned at the plant would require 200,000 tons of switchgrass a year.

Other issues being investigated include the economics and agronomics of growing switchgrass as well as the environmental benefits, said John Sellers Jr., who coordinates the Chariton Valley Biomass Project.

The stands of tall prairie grass provide a haven for whitetail deer and pheasants. Along streams, the grass can trap eroded soil, reducing the load of fertilizers and pesticides that might otherwise wind up in the water.

The grass also helps reduce global warming, which scientists blame on a buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Switchgrass plants consume carbon dioxide in the air and convert it into carbon, which gets stored, or sequestered, in the roots.

Switchgrass has a large root mass. Fields converted to switchgrass can store more carbon than row crops.

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