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Winter crop pennycress being promoted as biodiesel source

Winter crop pennycress being promoted as biodiesel source
Pennycress is a member of the mustard family known for its small, coin-like seedpods.

A North American winter crop considered by many as a weed is being seen as an advantageous biodiesel resource, the United States National Biodiesel Board reports.

Pennycress, a member of the mustard family known for its small, coin-like seedpods, is being developed for commercialization and could see growth in the coming years, according to early adopters.

"What excites me the most is that the effort to grow pennycress for biodiesel is really still in its infancy, and yet it's essentially ready to go commercial," said Brad Glenn, an early adopter based in Stanford, Illinois.

The crop, which grows wild in the Midwest region of the United States, is reported as having seed packets that can yield 36 percent oil from its oilseeds when crushed. One acre would yield about 80 gallons of oil according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Planting them in the Midwest area would need little energy and no inputs for pennycress to grow, its promoters say.

But according to Peter Johnsen, former director of the United States Department of Agriculture's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, and who has been instrumental in the crop's commercialization, said pennycress' advantage is that it can be grown during the winter on existing farms that would otherwise just sit dormant.

They are harvested before they die off in early spring before replacing them with soybeans. This enables pennycress not to compete with soybeans as well as corn. It would also be easy to remove with routine herbicides if needed.

"This could not be easier, and has the potential to generate extra income while helping farmers make an even greater contribution to energy production," Mr. Glenn said.

The National Biodiesel Board team has found that the best approach to planting the crop would be by dropping its seeds from an airplane into standing corn during autumn.

The team now aims to plant 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares) of pennycress in the fourth quarter next year in Central Illinois, which they hope will spur the growth expected in the coming years.

"For this to succeed, it's going to take a desire for innovation among farmers, and a shift in their thinking to grow a crop in the winter," Mr. Johnsen said. "But it's a phenomenally promising win-win."

Mr. Glenn, Mr. Johnsen, and other early adopters are negotiating with other farmers to grow and harvest pennycress as well, to be extracted for oil and sold to biodiesel producers. – EcoSeed Staff

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