Field day offers peek at fruits of UI energy farm

Field day offers peek at fruits of UI energy farm

URBANA – Just what is an energy farm anyway?

On Thursday morning, you can find out.

The University of Illinois will host its first official field day at its energy farm in rural south Urbana. Interested farmers, students and area residents are welcome to attend, organizers said.

The 320-acre farm is where professors, researchers and students have been growing everything from the towering miscanthus grass to newly planted trees.

The field day will be held from 9:30 a.m. to noon Thursday. Visitors can park at 4301 S. Philo Road, about one-third of a mile south of Curtis Road. Look for the tent.

The farm is funded by the Energy Biosciences Institute, which is a BP-funded partnership between the oil company, the University of California at Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois. The partnership was announced in 2007.

"We will be showing off a lot of our research and production activities," said Tom Voigt, a professor and program leader for the feedstock production and agronomy program at the Energy Biosciences Institute.

Although some plantings on the farm began in 2007, the energy farm began in earnest in early 2008, he said. Many of the crops take two or three years to mature.

The farm has herbaceous and woody crops that researchers are studying to determine which ones perform best by producing the greatest in biomass yield with the least amount of inputs required to grow them, he said.

"We're evaluating primarily perennials – miscanthus giganteus, switchgrass," as well as woody crops like poplar and willow, Voigt said.

The farm also is home to a restored prairie and an area devoted to growing annual crops such as corn, soybeans and sorghums. Those crops are being studied for their use as cellulosic ethanol, for transportation fuel.

"We hope to attract a wide-reaching audience," he said about the field day. "Local farmers as well as some curious townspeople, some classes are scheduled to come out here, and some people from across the county who are interested in the bioenergy industry."

Presentations are planned in the topics of agronomy, biofuels law, ecology, engineering and entomology.

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