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Dudley Smith Day scheduled for Nov. 3

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[OCT. 7, 2004]  URBANA -- This year's observance of Dudley Smith Day will be at Rodney Sloan's residence and farm just off Route 29, on 600 North between Taylorville and Pana, with activities from 9 a.m. until noon Nov. 3.

The meeting will include presentations by researchers from the University of Illinois as well as local citizens, including teachers and students from local schools who will share the results of their activities funded in part by Dudley Smith Initiative Education Grants.

A complimentary box lunch is available to those who register by Friday, Oct. 29. To register, call the University of Illinois Extension Christian County office at (217) 287-7246.

One of the University of Illinois projects that will be featured at this year's Dudley Smith Day is exploring Miscanthus, commonly called "elephant grass," as a biomass crop for energy production and its economic potential for Illinois farmers.

"Switchgrass and Miscanthus are particularly well-suited as bioenergy crops," said Steve Long, crop scientist and principal investigator on the project. "They are low-input, requiring only one planting operation, require little fertilizer, have no or few pests and diseases, and add large quantities of organic matter to the soil." Long said that, based on European trials, they may be beneficial in soil restoration and open an opportunity for carbon credits.

"Although not native, Miscanthus is similar in growth habit to prairie grasses but very much more productive. The variety being grown is an inter-specific hybrid that not only gives it vigor, but like the mule, which is an inter-specific hybrid of a horse and donkey; it is sterile. This is important to avoid any risk of it becoming invasive. The crop has been grown in Denmark, for over 30 years, where monitoring has confirmed the lack of any invasive risk. [Click on picture for larger image.]

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"Profitability and environmental gains associated with biomass crops will be greatest if the crop used to generate this solid fuel is low-input and high-yielding," said Long. "Based on the European experience in different climate zones, we might expect yields of 10 to 14 tons of dry matter per hectare from the Miscanthus crop. These are about double the yield reported for switchgrass in our region."

Long said that while the information from Europe provides an excellent start, experience and further development would be needed to provide a basis for the cultivation of the crop in Illinois. "Trials started three years ago at Urbana and Dixon Springs are showing yields that equal or exceed the yields predicted from Europe."

Miscanthus is harvested in the winter, when the annual crops of stems have died back. This suits European energy generation, where there is peak demand in the winter. In Illinois, energy usage can be as high in the summer as winter; therefore, energy cropping would require at least one alternative biomass crop that could provide material during mid- and late summer. Long says that switchgrass appears suitable for this role.

"The dual uses of switchgrass as a summer pasture and as a biomass crop, together with Miscanthus as a dedicated biomass crop, offers a unique means to diversify Illinois cropping systems. Miscanthus has now also been used in Europe as thatching material, suggesting that it is resilient to the weather. If correct, then bales of Miscanthus might be stored in the field after harvest until required by the power generator. This possibility is also being investigated."

[University of Illinois news release]


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