Jim Mintert likes to highlight Extension activities that are cutting edge in Indiana. After all, Mintert is the assistant Extension director and the man in charge of agriculture and natural resources. One of the efforts he believes could be important in the long run is work being done by Chad Martin and others to look for how to grow and harvest potential new energy sources.
Martin, in Purdue University Agronomy's Department, is involved in the project which received a grant and began last year. The goal is to learn how to best establish warm-season grasses and other crops that could someday be used as feedstocks for energy production.
Cellulosic ethanol production is yet to take off in any kind of major commercial way. By some people's timetables, it is behind schedule. By other people's perspectives, it is probably about where they expected.
Solving the logistics of turning materials containing lots of cellulose into ethanol and ultimately into fuel is a large undertaking, with plenty of issues to be solved.
One of those is being able to tell farmers how to grow the crop when the time comes. If you think it's not important because it won't even happen, think of the chicken and egg dilemma. If the technology isn't there to produce the feedstock, the plants won't be able to operate even once they do figure out how to make the technology economical.
Martin recently planted a plot at the Indiana FFA Center. This demonstration plot will be used for teaching and training purposes. There are also other plots scattered throughout the state.
"Last year was not a good year to begin the project," he notes. "We had trouble establishing stands at several locations due to dry soils and the continuing drought. We're hoping for better luck this year in showing how we can grow these types of plants."