Research has found a type of grass used as livestock feed has capabilities to limit the conversion of nitrogen into nitrous oxide, limiting emissions of one of the most aggressive greenhouse gasses. reports the findings will be presented in a series of papers for the 22nd International Grasslands Congress this week. The evidence shows a mechanism, called the "biological nitrification inhibition" (BNI), in Brachiaria grasses reduces a gas responsible for 38 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.

Findings are presented by the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), a member of the CGIAR Consortium. Team leader Michael Peters says BNI can not only assist agriculture in keeping global climate change within manageable limits, it could also reduce the amount of nitrates entering waterways and improve crop yields.

According to a release, scientists have developed the means to exploit the BNI phenomenon on a large scale:

  • CIAT researchers have found ways to increase BNI through plant breeding in different species of Brachiaria grasses. The new techniques include methods for rapidly quantifying BNI in Brachiaria together with molecular markers, which reduce the time needed for field testing.
  • Center scientists have also just gathered evidence that a maize crop grown after Brachiaria humidicola pastures gave acceptable yields with only half the amount of nitrogen fertilizer normally used, because more nitrogen was retained in the soil, thus reducing nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching. The researchers determined that BNI had boosted nitrogen-use efficiency by a factor of 3.8.
  • In addition, scientists have developed hybrids of Brachiaria humidicola and delivered these, with support from the German government, to farmers in Colombia and Nicaragua for productivity and quality testing. Previous grass hybrids have increased milk and meat production by several orders of magnitude, compared to native savanna grasses, and by at least 30 percent, compared to commercial grass cultivars. Based on evaluation of the new hybrids and with the aid of simulation models, researchers are studying where else the hybrids can be introduced and on how large a scale.

The deep-rooted Brachiaria grasses capture large amounts of atmospheric carbon. The grass originated in sub-Saharan Africa, but is widely grown on pastures in Brazil and Colombia.