Farmers plant pennycress for Innovation Fuels

By Ryan C. Christiansen | March 09, 2009
Web exclusive posted March 10, 2009, at 1:30 p.m. CST

Two New Jersey farmers are testing growing pennycress as a feedstock for Albany, N.Y.-based biodiesel producer Innovation Fuels Inc., which currently operates a 40 MMgy biodiesel plant in Newark, N.J. The company plans to use locally grown feedstocks at the plant to produce biodiesel for local sale, according to John Fox, chief executive officer for Innovation Fuels.

One of the farmers growing a test plot of pennycress for Innovation Fuels is Michael Lazewski of Manalapan, N.J., who said he is excited about growing a winter energy crop. "The great thing about pennycress is that it's a cycled crop," Lazewski said, "and so in the wintertime, after we harvest in November for our soybeans and corn, we go ahead and prep the soil for the pennycress for our winter. The crop basically rotates with our soybeans and corn and so we actually get a whole other season of planting-a winter season and a spring harvest-and then we get a fall harvest with our regular crop and so we're basically doubling the amount of production or output that we end up with."

Lazewski said pennycress should be a beneficial crop for his farm. "Our farm is very rich in iron ore and other types of metals in the soil," he said, "and pennycress is something that really thrives on high-metal-content, high-iron-ore-content soils. It's not going to deplete our nutrients; it's only going to enrich our soil for the soybeans and corn in the spring.

"It's like rotating," he continued. "Let's say if you did soybeans and corn in the spring and then the next year you rotated in maybe a potato crop to give it the nourishment, this seems to be the same type of thing. It's going to be able to revitalize our soil without having to take a year off. We're hoping that this will allow for a better crop in the spring for our soybeans and corn."

Lazewski said the test plot covers approximately 1.5 acres. He said planting and harvesting pennycress should be a seamless process for a corn or soybean farmer. "It's the same equipment," he said. "We use a combine to yield the crop out of the ground and plant it with a grain drill, the same you would do for soybeans or corn. There are really no modifications to the equipment at all."

Planting a winter crop is something new for Lazewski. "We're just waiting to see if any germination occurs," he chuckled, "because myself and my father and grandfather who are farmers realize that it's pretty tough to plant something in the winter and have it germinate in the snow and be able to be ready for the spring. We're hoping that the crop does what it does."

Like most farmers, Lazewski said he is hopeful. "We'll see how the numbers work out when we get the pennycress out of the ground this spring," he said. "(Depending) how the yield turns out this spring, we might plant the whole place."
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