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.
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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second column in this article]
"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]