East Tennessee farmers are literally standing atop one of the most important natural resources in the world as they are being asked to produce more crops without harming the environment – the soil.

And as the stewards of the soil, farmers are at the forefront of efforts to improve our practices and ensure its sustainable use for future generations.

With their use of new technologies and conservation practices, these farmers are playing an important role in a sustainable future. By maintaining rich and fertile soils that can grow crops that can feed the populace, they also protect water sources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, prevent erosion and create natural habitats for wildlife.

Planting to foster nutrient-rich soil

At Genera, we work in partnership with East Tennessee farmers to plant switchgrass, cover crops like wheat and other crops that help protect the environment in more ways than one. Prairie grasses like switchgrass aid in fostering nutrient-rich soil because they improve organic carbon levels, infiltration rates and soil water retention. Soil scientists and farmer experiences have shown that planting switchgrass significantly improves the physical and chemical properties of the soil.

Reducing soil erosion

Planting switchgrass on lands susceptible to soil loss dramatically reduces soil erosion when compared to other crops. The perennial nature of these prairie grasses also provides year-round protection of the soil surface. In addition, prairie grasses don’t uproot easily in heavy rains or other storms and end up sheltering other plants with more shallow roots. These crops can also be planted in areas that would otherwise sit idle, like those near streams or other sensitive areas.

Cover crops (crops planted after corn or soybeans have been harvested) like wheat provide soil stability during wet winter months while adding organic matter to the soil as well. Farmers can harvest grain and produce biomass feedstocks for fiber products.

Building wildlife habitats

Prairie grasses also provide food for many species of wildlife and can be a wonderful nesting place for wild birds and mammals, such as wild turkeys and rabbits. It also provides cover for a variety of birds, like the northern bobwhite, locally, that have been on the decline.

While merely planting switchgrass or cover crops like wheat helps protect our natural resources, these crops can also be used in the production of plant-based compostable solutions, such as Genera’s Earthable® molded fiber products that are ideal for single-use foodservice and packaging. This allows farmers to protect the environment while still earning another stable source of income.

The need for sustainable resource management is increasingly urgent and farmers are the first responders. Their continued efforts to preserve and restore critical habitats, improve soil health and protect watersheds are having serious positive impacts on people and the environment.