25Farmer Network plants new crop trials

By Lisa Gibson
Participants in the 25Farmer Network will grow sunflowers, sweet sorghum and switchgrass this summer for use in manufacturing biomaterials and biofuels. It is the first crop they will plant for the program.

The network is coordinated through Memphis Bioworks Foundation's AgBio initiative and consists of 25 western Tennessee farmers who will plant five acres each of experimental crops, a step toward identifying crops that can be grown locally for several potential products ranging from novel health products to biobased materials. The farmers will learn first-hand how to manage the new crops in the region and assess their variability as a long-term source in an ongoing pipeline, according to Memphis Bioworks. Their crops could be used in manufacturing biobased plastics, cleaning products, automotive components and consumer products such as high-fashion clothing and industrial plastics.

"We picked three crops to start with and we hope to expand the range and increase acreage of the crops each year," said Hillary Spain, Memphis Bioworks representative. "We start with growing anything and everything on small plots to see what grows the best and has a potential market." The farmer participants have a say in which experimental crop they grow.

Sunflowers have an oil market in Oklahoma, Spain said, and sweet sorghum can be used in manufacturing ethanol. "It's looking like it'll be a better crop for producing ethanol than corn," she said. Switchgrass production is targeted for future cellulosic ethanol production. "We're hoping there'll be a market for that in the next few years," Spain added.
For more information, see "Tennessee group launches 25Farmer Network" in the October 2008 issue of Biomass Magazine.