NEF's new planting system speeds up miscanthus development

By Anna Austin | November 09, 2011

Energy crop developer New Energy Farms says it has developed a new system for establishing miscanthus that takes one-third the time of previous planting methods.

Paul Carver, NEF co-founder and CEO, who holds a PhD in miscanthus physiology and has been working with the crop for more than 15 years, said he believes the company can address the challenges that have been hindering the expansion of energy crops during the past decade. Of those barriers, establishment costs has been one of the most significant. “Grants and BCAP [Biomass Crop Assistance Program] won’t always be around—they are intended to start the market, not keep it going forever—so we’re very focused on providing systems that allow people to plant crops effectively without grant support,” Carver said. “It needs to end up being half the cost of what it is today.”

Carver said the new system, which he describes a second-generation method of planting energy crops, has three components. The first is a bulked up miscanthus breed that can reproduce rapidly. “The second part is development of uniform propagules that you can auto-drill with no hand labor,” Carver said.

That goes hand-in-hand with the last component—a machine that precision drills the miscanthus plants like seed row crops, allowing for quick establishment and rapid acreage expansion. “Our system takes one-third the time that it’s taken in the past; normally it takes about five years for establishment,” Carver said. The system is applicable to seed-based energy crops as well, he added.

NEF is also partnered with Muddy Boots Software, an information technology platform that allows direct trading between end-users and farmers. Among many other facets, Muddy Boots provides crop sustainability information to the end-user, which is required by law in the European Union. “The release of the IT system is very much linked to the establishment system development; we are providing a complete service for the energy crop feedstock supply chain, from breeders to farmers to end-users,” Carver said. “This will make it low cost, and easy to scale up and manage the areas of energy crops required for projects, which have previously been barriers to expansion.”