Almost 200 years ago Johnson grass seeds were brought over from North Africa as a gift to a plantation owner in Mississippi. Hoping that he had found the miracle grass, the farmer planted eight acres and it grew thick and fast. That variety of grass thrived on any patch of soil it could find, whether it was plowed or not. Johnson grass spread rapidly and aggressively by rhizomes as well as seeds. A single plant produced thousands of seeds per year, and those seeds could lie dormant in the ground for up to twenty years.
The plantation owner in Mississippi had no idea the problems he was about to create for other land owners when he accepted the gift from his friend. He just wanted to establish a nice hay field to feed his cattle and horses, and this plant seemed to be perfect, fast growing and requiring very little care. But he and others were soon to find out that during times of drought and under stress, Johnson grass produced an acid that can be poisonous to farm animals. During the drought when animals began to die, the farmer tried to mow the grass and plow it under to get rid of it. But he was in for a big surprise; it spread even faster.
The growing of Johnson grass has been banned by many states. The plant is dreaded by area farmers and landowners but the people of our area are very resourceful. Any people who can learn to grind sassafras leaves for gumbo, develop pepper sauce, lead the world in petroleum technology can surely find a way to utilize Johnson grass profitably. Several cellulose ethanol plants using farm scraps like sugarcane bagasse and wood chips are being completed in Louisiana. Is Johnson grass a candidate for such a product? Let’s get with it, Cajun entrepreneurs!
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