May 19, 2011
Can fast-growing shrub willow meet your energy needs? A field day at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva on Tuesday, May 24, from 1 to 3pm will feature a planting demonstration for this promising biofuel.
“Willow is an option for those currently using heating oil but looking for an alternative fuel,” said Larry Smart, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell. “The demonstration plots are geared towards local businesses, municipalities, school districts, farms, and non-farming landowners.”
According to Smart, growing shrub willow requires few inputs and little maintenance once established. He will be testing harvesting equipment that farmers can adapt to equipment they already own.
“Shrub willow stands are productive for over 25 years, grow to a height of 25 feet, and can be re-harvested every two to three years without replanting,” he said. “After the initial 18 months, they need essentially no herbicide or pesticide applications and require only a small amount of fertilizer–much less than corn.”
Cornell’s willow chips will be used to heat two buildings at the NYSAES next winter. A new 750,000 Btu biomass boiler will consume wood chips harvested from only 5 to 6 acres of willow per winter, at a fraction of the cost natural gas. Similar boilers are already in use several schools around the state and Ithaca’s Cayuga Nature Center.
Tuesday’s program will provide an introduction to shrub willow followed by demonstrations of minimum tillage for field preparation and GPS-guided planting with two types of willow planters using a system provided by Agrinetix. The willow varieties were developed in Smart’s breeding program, and planting stock was produced by Double A Willow of Fredonia.
The demonstration is part of an experiment to compare conventional field preparation—plowing and disking of the entire planting area—with conservation “zone” tillage of 8 to 10 inch planting strips that relies on GPS for precision planting.
The field day is supported by the New York Farm Viability Institute, a farmer-led, nonprofit group that funds projects on profitable innovations in farming. The event open to the public, but registration is requested (http://willow.cals.cornell.edu/news.html or 315-787-2490).