I recently wrote about the potential of energy crops for biofuels, but there are many more opportunities including the biofuels value of planting winter crops or double crops. Last week during the AG CONNECT Expo, I spoke with Dr. Tom Richard, associate professor with Pennsylvania State University, who discussed the opportunities for biofuels and agriculture through the planting and harvesting of winter crops and double crops.
For many decades farmers have been encouraged to plant cover crops as an effort to reduce soil erosion, capture nutrients and improve soil quality. These cover crops are left on the ground and not marketed. The only difference with a double crop, explained Richard, is that it is marketed and becomes a second crop for the year.
“What we’re finding now with the biofuels industry is there’s potential to use what we’ve thought of as cover crops as double crops and actually market the material,” said Richard. “The above ground biomass could be a winter grain like winter rye, winter wheat or winter barley or could be an oil seed like winter canola or could be summer crop.”
Richard also explained that by going to a double crop or a winter crop, you will increase the net energy of the biofuel produced. The reason for this is that you are taking advantage of the sunlight and nutrients for a wider, longer growing season and a farmer can actually increase the productivity of that single piece of land by around 20 percent.
There are also advantages of planting winter or double crops from an environmental perspective. Most notably the roots are taking up nutrients and preventing erosion during the time of year that gets a lot of rain in many places throughout the country. The plants are also adding organic matter to the soil.
I asked Richard what the country needs to do to encourage farmers to begin growing these double or winter crops and he noted that subsidy programs are not enough. “We think a combination of some environmental subsidies plus a market for that second feedstock, that energy crop, will combine to make it a very attractive option.”
Listen to my interview with Tom below.