UI: Sugarcane could become oil-producing crop for biodiesel

UI: Sugarcane could become oil-producing crop for biodiesel

A roundup of agriculture news:

URBANA — A team of researchers led by the University of Illinois recently reported that it can increase sugarcane's geographic range and turn it into an oil-producing crop for biodiesel production.

"Biodiesel is attractive because, for example, with soybeans, once you've pressed the oil out, it's fairly easy to convert it to diesel," said Stephen P. Long, a UI plant biology researcher and leader of the initiative.

But soybeans aren't productive enough to meet the nation's need for renewable diesel fuels, Long said in a UI news release.

"Sugarcane and sorghum are exceptionally productive plants, and if you could make them accumulate oil in their stems instead of sugar, this would give you much more oil per acre," Long said.

The research team introduced genes that boost natural oil production in sugarcane and managed to increase oil production in sugarcane stems to about 1.5 percent.

"That doesn't sound like a lot, but at 1.5 percent, a sugarcane field in Florida would produce about 50 percent more oil per acre than a soybean field," Long said. "There's enough oil to make it worth harvesting."

The team hopes to increase the oil content of sugarcane stems to about 20 percent, he said.

Using genetic engineering, the researchers increased photosynthetic efficiency in sugarcane and sorghum by 30 percent, Long said.

To boost cold tolerance, the researchers are crossing sugarcane with Miscanthus, a perennial grass that can grow as far north as Canada.

"Our goal is to make sugarcane produce more oil, be more productive with more photosynthesis and be more cold-tolerant," Long said.

The team also includes scientists from Brookhaven National Laboratory, the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska.

Farmers, chefs to meet March 31 in Urbana

URBANA — The Illinois Stewardship Alliance is sponsoring four mixers in central Illinois — including one in Urbana — to bring local chefs and farmers together.

The alliance hopes that as a result of the mixers, new partnerships will be formed that promote the use of locally grown food.

The Urbana mixer is scheduled from 3 to 5 p.m. March 31 at Cafeteria & Company, 208 W. Main St., U.

Participants can take part in a question-and-answer session hosted by a panel of local chefs and make new business contacts.

The event is free for chefs looking to source fresh, locally grown and produced food and farmers looking to expand their markets.

To register, call the alliance at (217) 528-1563 or register online at ilstewards.org.

Similar mixers are scheduled March 10 in Peoria, March 17 in Bloomington and March 24 in Springfield.

"Using locally grown and produced foods puts dollars in the pockets of local farmers and often provides chefs with the freshest products and unique varieties, making it a win-win for both parties," said Lindsay Record, program director for the alliance.

Riggs to tell chamber about farming, food

CHAMPAIGN — Champaign County farmer Dennis Riggs will explain what it takes to get food from the farm to the table at a Champaign County Chamber of Commerce breakfast this month.

The "Farm to The Plate" breakfast, offered by the chamber's agribusiness committee, will be at 7:30 a.m. March 20 at the Tony Noel Agricultural Technology Applications Center at Parkland College, Champaign.

The breakfast is sponsored by the Champaign County Farm Bureau and will be catered by Dish Passionate Cuisine.

The $1 charge represents the amount a farmer would receive for the meal. All proceeds will benefit the chamber's Business Disaster Recovery Fund.

To register, contact Caryn Isenhower at the chamber, 359-1791. or email caryni@champaigncounty.org.

Good sees growth potential in U.S. ethanol exports

URBANA — Growing demand for U.S. ethanol exports could boost domestic corn consumption, University of Illinois agricultural economist Darrel Good said in a UI release.

High crude-oil prices are likely to make corn-based ethanol more attractive, he said.

"With corn prices at the current levels, U.S. ethanol is very competitively priced in the world market," Good said.

U.S. ethanol exports increased from about 400 million gallons in 2010 to 1.2 billion gallons in 2011 as a result of high sugar prices and limited supplies of Brazilian ethanol.

U.S. exports dropped back to 730 million gallons in 2012 and 620 million gallons in 2013. But exports rose late in the year, and U.S. Energy Information Administration data indicate exports have been brisk so far this year.

Canada is the largest importer of U.S. ethanol, accounting for 45 percent of U.S. exports in December. Brazil accounted for another 22 percent of U.S. exports.

Good said ethanol is expected to continue to be "a large and likely growing segment of demand" for U.S. corn.