Friday, October 07, 2016

Weed could boost agriculture in Midwest while producing environmentally friendly biofuel

Pennycress field (Arvegenix photo by Jerry Steiner)
A weed once thought to be a nuisance could be the new crop to boost agriculture in the Midwest, Becky Wildt reports for the Great Lakes Echo, a project of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. Pennycress, which "naturally grows in disturbed areas with little competition, such as harvested corn fields lying bare and unproductive," has seeds that "produce oil that can be used as a raw material for biodiesel." Planted in August or September, near the end of corn season, pennycress grows until late May.

Winthrop Phippen, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Western Illinois University, told Wildt there are environmental benefits to growing pennycress: “I am using ground that farmers leave totally empty over the winter months. And I am squeezing in another crop. And I’m not having to clear wetlands, I’m not having to disturb watersheds or anything. I’m actually improving the watershed because now I’ve got green cover during the winter months. And that helps absorb any leftover nitrogen that may be in the field.” He said that "keeps excess nitrogen from running off into streams and waterways."

Jerry Steiner, chief executive officer of pennycress development company Arvegenix, said the biggest advantage of the crop is that it doesn't take away any land needed to grow food, Wildt writes. He told her, "The biodiesel industry and the renewable-jet-fuel industry are looking for a new feedstocks, the raw material needed to produce biodiesel. But they want feedstocks that don’t compete with food.” (Read more)

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