Illinois farmers to plant 150 acres of pennycress

By Susanne Retka Schill | August 08, 2008
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Web exclusive posted Sept. 9, 2008 at 3:42 p.m. CST

An effort is underway to get 150 acres of pennycress planted in three-acre to five-acre plots across Illinois this fall. On Sept. 3 area farmers met with scientists who have been developing the crop and representatives of BioFuels Manufacturing Illinois Inc. to learn about the new crop. Pennycress is a winter annual in the mustard family and is a common weed throughout the United States. Pennycress seeds contain 36 percent oil, making them highly attractive for creating biofuels and bioproducts.

BioFuels Manufacturing Illinois president and chief executive Sudhir Seth asked farmers to plant pennycress plots to further research. "Pennycress as a winter crop offers farmers an alternate source of income in their off-season and can be planted in rotation with other winter annuals like winter wheat," he said. Developing a non-food crop for biodiesel production will also help discredit the food versus fuel argument for biofuels, Seth added.

Scientists from the USDA AG Lab and Western Illinois University shared their latest pennycress test results with prospective farmers. "If we were to plant pennycress in all the available soybean fields for a winter crop, we could see nearly 6.5 billion gallons of additional diesel produced domestically without upsetting the current planting schedules for farmers," said Terry Isbell, lead researcher for the new crops and processing technology group at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., during the meeting.

Fred Iutzi, research agronomist with the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, said the initial field research results look promising. The crop can be planted from mid-September to early November with harvest dates from late May to early July. He told farmers that their current equipment can be used for planting and harvesting pennycress, although the equipment may need minor modifications because the seed is quite small and must be planted shallow.

Seth said has received positive response from area farmers and is hoping to have 150 acres planted. BioFuels Manufacturing Illinois plans to build a 45 MMgy biodiesel production facility in Mapleton, Ill., which can be scaled up to 60 MMgy, he added.
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