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This Week

Raising canola Western Illinois farmers look at alternative crops
7/27/2007

By ROBERT ARROYO

Eagle Staff Intern

WIU agriculture professors Dr. Winthrop Phippen and Fred Iutzi have been working the soil on the WIU Alternative Crops Demonstration plot in hopes of helping farmers find more environmental alternatives for oil and energy production and crops that are in higher demand.

One of the crops the research program has been looking into is using canola as a bio-diesel alternative.

“There has always been a good market for edible vegetable oils,” Iutzi said. “But bio-diesel is becoming an economic force.

“Canola is not new to us but is it new to the area,” Iutzi said. “A variety of people experimented (with it) in the ‘90s but it was not adaptable. Now thanks to plant breeders it can equal soybeans in yield.”

According to Iutzi, one pound of canola can produce twice as much oil as one pound of soybeans.

However, Iutzi added it is not necessarily a forgone conclusion that canola is a better crop for farmers. Canola needs to be treated with nitrogen and soybeans don’t require any.

Another crop that has been buzzing around the agricultural industry is Miscanthus. According to Iutzi, it contains a large biomass total, allowing for maximum energy use. Miscanthus can be broken down into ethanol and other fuels.

According to Iutzi, Miscanthus can produce twice as much yield than switch grass.

Another benefit is canola and Miscanthus are perennials, meaning they live longer than two years and do not have to be harvested and re-planted like annual crops, which prevents soil erosion and improves soil quality.

Cuphea oil produces a large amount of fatty acids other plants don’t, making it a potentially good crop for biofuel, according to Iutzi.

The consumer can find the results of a good Cuphea yield in shampoo, detergents and personal care products that are high in lauric acid. Researchers are currently looking at Cuphea to produce better jet fuel.

The WIU Alternative Crops Research Program collaborates with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is hoping to find a species of Cuphea that contains the specialty-fuel applications.

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