WIU project studying impact of new cover crop
QUINCY (WGEM) - Researchers at Western Illinois University are looking into the benefits of growing pennycress as a winter cash cover crop that they say also holds environmental benefits.
It’s a part of the Integrated Pennycress Research Enabling Farm & Energy Resilience Project. Intern Joseph Brandhorst said the basic idea of a cover crop is to revitalize the soil after the main crops are harvested.
Other cover crop examples include wheat or rye wheat but Brandhorst said pennycress and it’s gene edited version called CoverCress have proven to be very effective at getting nutrients back into the soil.
“It’s the pollinators, that is one of the greatest things that it offers due to the fact that it flowers so early compared to the other plants, especially in the Midwest as well as the ecosystem benefits as far as how it helps the soil continue to revitalize itself, it takes all that nitrogen out of the soil,” he said.
Dr. Winthrop Phippen said it’s important the excess nitrogen is taken out of the ground because it can run off into rivers and cause ecological damage. He said the pollinations is also beneficial for insects such as honeybees as well.
Phippen said what makes CoverCress different from pennycress is that it’s seeds can be used as a bio-fuel for airplanes and a livestock feed source.
Phippen said that the company, also called CoverCress, will also pay farmers to plant CoverCress.
“If a farmer has to pay for his own cover crop, he’s gonna end up paying anywhere from $50 to 60 an acre for growing rye, he gets no return on that so he’s out $50 to 60 an acre,” Phippen said. “With CoverCress, the company will pay you anywhere from $50 to 75 an acre.”
Phippen said another benefit is that unlike wheat, farmers can harvest CoverCress in May so they won’t be sacrificing space to plant crops like corn or soybeans.
He said they will have 10,000 acres planted in central Illinois in the fall. For now its only in central Illinois as they are studying the effects of the crop and figuring out logistics and product transportation.
In two years, Phippen said they hope to have it expanded throughout the Midwest.
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