Ohioan Wants Ditches for Biodiesel Crops

John Davis

Reflecting a trend that started in Utah and has been copied in several other states, an Ohio man wants to see the ditches and medians along the interstates used to grow oilseeds, such as safflower, dwarf sunflower and canola, to make into biodiesel.

This article from the Columbus (OH) Dispatch
says Mark Schaff, a member of Etna Township’s economic-development committee, got the idea after reading about a similar program in Utah and the national movement called FreeWays to Fuel:

North Carolina planted crops this summer, and programs are to start next summer in Minnesota, Michigan, Virginia and Tennessee.

Ohio spends about $17 million a year mowing state rights of way, he said.

Dallas Hanks, a doctoral student at Utah State University, originally pitched the idea to Utah transportation officials in 2006. The 47-year-old said the years of trial and error there have taught him valuable lessons about growing crops on roadsides that can now be adapted to other locations.

After some setbacks, Hanks said, he was able to develop planting and harvesting methods that allowed the crops to flourish on heavily compacted road gravel covered by a thin layer of topsoil, conditions similar to most freeway rights of way.

“We’ve been planting on sidewalks, in terms of compaction of soil,” Hanks said.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials have raised concerns about safety of those planting and harvesting crops in the ditches and medians, but proponents are quick to point out the oilseeds only would have to be tended to in the spring planting and fall harvesting … much less time than when maintenance crews have to continually mow those areas. Plus, farmers would only collect a share of proceeds generated and already have the equipment, eliminating those costs as well.