August 25, 2013

Farm on cutting edge

WILLSBORO — Cover crop inter-seeding and planting willows for fast-growing fuel were the major topics at a recent Cornell Baker Farm open house.

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Matt Ryan, an assistant professor at Cornell, introduced a modified tractor that is intended to allow for the interspacing of a cover crop with legumes such as clover and vetch between rows of another crop, in this instance corn. The tractor has a special double disk drill. Another application is the use of rye grass to absorb nitrogen and thus prevent it from leaching out of the soil.

Tractor being tested

Since this is the initial utilization of this method, results will start to be tabulated next year. The specialized tractor is one of five prototypes that will be tweaked to provide for maximum efficiency and minimal damage as it maneuvers between rows of corn or other crops. 

Ph.D. student Eric Fabio presented information on shrub willow bio-energy crops.

“We often use marginal land in cool, moist climates as we don’t want to take away from land that can be used for food crops,” Fabio said.

He indicated that the willows can in many instances start to be harvested in as little as three years. Planting is with small stems called “whips” that are basically pushed into the ground, generally with a mechanized planter. A specialized cutter is employed and the harvested crop is often chipped for fuel, although it can also be put into a liquidized form.

The crop yields approximately 30 wet tons or 10 dry tons per acre per year during the three-year harvesting cycles and will vigorously re-sprout after every harvesting for as long as 20 years. Harvesting is recommended in the winter due to the fact that the willow is planted in typically wet environments and thus it helps if the ground is frozen. In addition, the trees are dormant during that time.

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