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NCDA&CS programs award US$1 million for R&D related to bioenergy and crops

In the United States (US), the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) has announced that the North Carolina (NC) Bioenergy Research Initiative and the New and Emerging Crops Program has awarded US$1 million in grants for 15 projects to boost bioenergy opportunities and new crop production in the state.

A Loblolly pine seedling.
A mechanically planted Loblolly pine seedling in a forest plantation regeneration site in southeast Georgia (GA). The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) has awarded US$1 million in grants to boost bioenergy and crops in the state including research into growing Loblolly pine for biomass and timber production.

The Bioenergy Research Initiative began in 2013, after the North Carolina General Assembly allocated funding. The initiative’s grants of US$500 000 support the development of energy production from North Carolina agricultural- and forest-based products.

The New and Emerging Crops Program began after the General Assembly approved it in 2018. By awarding US$500 000 in grants, the program advances its mission of identifying potential new crops, value-added products, and agricultural enterprises and providing the agricultural research, marketing support, and education necessary to make these crops commercially viable and profitable for North Carolina’s growers and agribusinesses.

These grants allow researchers to test possibilities for our state. In some cases, the grants mean our research stations can continue great work that’s already been underway, while in other cases they’ll be tackling brand new projects. Either way, I’m confident they show promise as profitable endeavors for our state’s agriculture industry, said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.

The list of grant amounts, recipients, titles and descriptions for each of the projects awarded through the 2020 Bioenergy Research Initiative include:

  • North Carolina State University (NCSU) Department of Horticultural Science (US$33 212) for a project titled “Bringing Energycanes North“. This project builds on previously funded projects by evaluating field trials of newly developed hybrids of energy canes. Breeding efforts will be expanded with the aim of introducing cold hardiness genes from the Miscanthus genus and the Tripidium genus into advanced energy cane lines.
  • NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources (US$122 594) for a 2.5-year project titled “Sycamore: Sustainable Bioenergy-Improved Soil Health“. The main objectives of this project are to 1) measure changes in soil chemical and physical properties to quantify improvements in soil health due to integration of sycamore into a short rotation coppice management scenario and 2) test the properties of sycamore wood for suitability for pellet production and energy yield.
  • Carolina Land & Lakes RC&D (US$105 000) for “Pellets for Plants” will expand on a previously funded project for two years. CL&L strives to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by using a carbon-neutral, sustainable domestic fuel. This expansion will move to larger-scale wood pellet and chip boiler furnaces capable of heating greenhouses in the Appalachia region of the state in nearly all conditions for the full growing season. Potential advantages of a pellet heating source for greenhouses include decreased fuel costs and decreased disease incidence due to plants growing in a drier environment.
  • NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources (US$53 609) to support “Sustainable Pellet Production for Poultry”, which aims to validate the results of previously funded Pellet for Pullets projects. This comprehensive study will examine the technical and economic feasibility of wood pellets specifically produced for the Western NC poultry industry by assessing their accessibility, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and impact on bird productivity and survivability in broiler houses.
  • NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources (US$30 465 )to help a postdoctoral researcher continue work on Loblolly Pine Biomass and Economic Analysis for one year. This project evaluates the biomass production of loblolly pine due to variations of silviculture, genetics and stand density to help landowners optimize production in their biomass plantations.
  • Appalachian State University’s Department of Sustainable Technology & the Built Environment (US$80 738 )to fund a two-year project titled “Biochar with Anaerobic Digestion: Enhancing Crops“. This project builds upon previous work by investigating the synergy between anaerobic digestion (AD) and biochar technologies and the potential for improved soil quality using biochar combined digestate on Appalachia soils.
  • NCSU’s Cooperative Tree Improvement Program (US$74 382) to continue for two years the project titled “Loblolly Pine Biomass Genetics/Cropping Study”. Large genetic differences exist for growth, disease resistance and stem form in pine trees. The aim of this project is to evaluate different planting stock (families) in combination with different thinning regimes in order to inform landowners how best to maximize returns when supplying both the bioenergy and saw timber markets.

Amongst the projects granted through the 2020 New and Emerging Crops Program, two are non-food crop-related:

  • NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science (US$83 340) to fund Optimal Hemp Planting and Harvest Dates. Funding another year of this project may help validate the ideal planting and harvest periods for optimizing the floral yield of industrial hemp grown in outdoor production systems. In addition, this project will demonstrate and evaluate the economics, safety, and quality of hemp produced using different drying systems. The much-needed production information generated from this study will be disseminated through reports, scientific and extension publications, and through field days where growers will have the opportunity to gain hands-on learning experience.
  • NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences (US$71 767) to fund the second year of a project titled Nitrogen and Potassium Rates for Floral CBD Hemp Production. North Carolina growers have an immediate need for research-based fertility recommendations for industrial hemp grown for CBD. The goals of this project are to develop nitrogen and potassium fertility recommendations to maximize yield, establish plant tissue nitrogen and potassium sufficiency ranges, and evaluate if nitrogen, potassium and plant maturity affect floral tissue chemistry.

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