New crops on horizon for north Louisiana, Mississippi producers
“Our goal is to produce an energycane crop with minimal inputs, such as reduced nitrogen rates and reduced cultivation,” Gravois said.
Researchers also are studying sweet sorghum as another feedstock. According to Sonny Viator, an LSU AgCenter professor and resident coordinator of the Iberia Research Station, sweet sorghum has been identified as a high-producing sugar crop that creates juice that can be used to make biofuels and biochemicals.
Just as the fiber in energycane is used to produce biofuels, the juice in sweet sorghum is used to make butanol, ethanol and other products.
Sweet sorghum “is a low-input crop, one that can be grown on marginal soil, and a crop suitable for sustainable production” Viator said. “It’s a crop that doesn’t have a real big footprint. And we’ve identified it as one of the sugar crops that can be used to produce biofuels.”
The researchers are trying to determine the potential for producing sweet sorghum from midsummer to the first frost by varying the timing of planting and using plants of different maturity levels. That combination of planting dates and differing maturities allows the sorghum to be available for harvest over a sustained period of about three months.
Traditionally, the best planting period for sweet sorghum in Louisiana has been from mid-April to mid-May, with harvest in August. This study is looking at a production model of harvesting sweet sorghum beginning in July and extending until early November. Following that, energycane would be harvested until spring, when, perhaps, a third crop would be available.
“The ultimate goal is to supply feedstock to a biorefinery for most of the year,” Viator said.
A trio of LSU AgCenter researchers is investigating sweet sorghum sustainable production practices at AgCenter research stations throughout the state. Wink Alison at the AgCenter Scott Research and Extension Center in Winnsboro, La., Kun-Jun Han in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences in Baton Rouge, and Dustin Harrell at the AgCenter Rice Research Station in Crowley, La., are identifying production practices that can help producers optimize yields.
When the project is completed, producers should know how much fertilizer to apply and how much tillage is required and understand the benefits of using legumes in rotation with sweet sorghum.
LSU AgCenter forestry specialist Michael Blazier at the Hill Farm Research Station in Homer, La., is conducting a carbon sequestration study in tandem with the research on fertilizing sweet sorghum and growing energycane north of its typical growing area.
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