A joint field tour was held during the conference to the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, Minnesota to see both agricultural and forestry research projects, with an emphasis on working landscapes, cultural practices commonalities, and opportunities for integration.
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Developing Alternative Energy Crops and Systems Tour
Diversifying the suite of crops and cropping systems is a key to the economic and environmental sustainability of bioenergy feedstock production. This tour highlighted a number of the possibilities under study on farmland in Iowa. The first leg of the trip focused on combining riparian and field border conservation practices with biomass production and wildlife habitat improvement. A driving tour was taken along 9.7 kilometers of continuous riparian multi-species buffer strips using different designs in the Bear Creek National Restoration Demonstration Watershed. Buffers vary from 3-18 years of age. Plantings include poplar hybrids, silver maple, green ash, a variety of shrubs and native grasses, and a high yielding switch grass selection.
Lunch was served at the Risdal Farm, the first planting site and official visitor site for the buffer. The site offers guided or unguided tours of a number of buffer components. An information kiosk provides a one-stop overview of the project for those who want to do less walking.
The afternoon included 3 stops near Ames and Iowa State University; an overview of extensive research on conventional and alternative agricultural energy crops and cropping systems, then a preview of the New Century Farm being developed by the university, the final stop was at a first-year coppice regrowth of hybrid aspens that is expected to produce some of the highest average annual biomass yields yet achieved with very low energy inputs.
Tour Route for those interested in doing it on their own.
Hybrid Poplar Field Tour
Hybrid poplar is grown commercially in central Minnesota to provide fiber for Verso Paper’s TMP pulp and coated paper mill in Sartell, Minnesota. Since 1995, approximately 23,157 acres have been established on highly productive farmland. Harvesting of these plantations began in the fall of 2007. The tour included a comprehensive view of commercial plantation establishment and management in Minnesota as well as stops of ongoing genetic improvement research being done by the University of Minnesota on Verso lands. Tour stops highlighted nursery management and cutting production, commercial plantation establishment and maintenance techniques, as well as a practical perspective on implementing a large-scale fiber farm program. Research sites included field testing of a large collection of new genotypes produced through the UM breeding program. These trials include over 900 genotypes at each site as well as yield tests of promising genotypes.
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