ESF selects VVS for willow crop trial

Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School will include in its agriculture education program a demonstration trial of shrub willow bioenergy crops. Researchers at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry selected a 2.5 acre field on Beacon Light Road, adjacent to the high school to grow shrub willow.

The trail will show a potential of shrub willow to grow on marginal agricultural land and provide wood chips that can be used as field in power plants, for heating and as a feedstock for celluosic biofuels.

"VVS is the perfect site for a long-term demonstration of the growth potential of shrub willow varieties we've produced in our breeding program," said Dr. Larry Smart, associate professor in environmental and forest biology at SUNY-ESF and the project leader.

Shrub willow fields are planted using whips, long pieces of dormant willow stem harvested from nursery beds that are cut into small pieces and pushed into the soil by a specially-designed willow planter.

At the end of this growing season, the stems are cut back (coppiced), which stimulates vigorous regrowth of multiple new stems the following spring. When it is harvested for the first time three years later, the wood chips can be burned in a wood or coal fired power plant or used to make cellulosic biofuels. VVS ag teacher Ketih Schiebel is interested in using the chips as a renewable fuel for the maple syrup operation his students manage.

"Our students recognize that we need to find alternatives to fossil fuels as soon as possible, and willow looks like a good option for producers in this area," Schiebel said. "Once established, a willow field is harvested on a three-year cycle with the plants resprouting after every harvest for more than 20 years."

The trail will also provide examples of willow crops in cultivation that local growers and biofuel companies can see in person.

For more information about this project, call Mary Wrege, renewable energy educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County at 736-3394

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