CenUSA Extension and Outreach: Perennial Grass Bioenergy Research and Knowhow for Producers, Students and Stakeholders

Farm Energy February 28, 2017 Print Friendly and PDF

Bioenergy research is translated into practical know-how by extension educators, farmers and Master Gardeners.

 

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The CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team

On the streets, in the fields, and online, the CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team collaborators deliver programming and educational materials critical to the CenUSA Bioenergy vision.

CenUSA-cycle-graphic

The mission of the Extension team was to help farmers and others learn about the environmental impacts of perennial grass production and utilization of biochar, best practices for growing and supplying perennial grasses for the biofuels/bioproducts industry, potential markets that may develop for the grasses; and to help farmers evaluate how grasses might work in their operations once a market develops.

Accomplishing this mission was a team effort led by Project Co-Directors Jill Euken and Sorrel Brown from Iowa State University, along with 33 collaborators from seven universities and volunteer Extension Master Gardeners from Minnesota and Iowa.

Citizen Science and Farm Research Provide Hands-On Learning

Under the direction of professional scientists and their institutions, citizen science projects amplified the impact of the CenUSA program. Farm demonstration sites and garden research plots provided hands-on learning opportunities for participants and produced valuable research data for CenUSA to share with the public.

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CenUSA Bioenergy field day in Dawson, NE. Photo: CenUSA

Extension and outreach professionals and farmers in Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska established nine on-farm demonstration sites. Farmers established plots, collected data, and shared information with others at field days. Extension agents provided guidance, organized the field days, tours of plots, and informational meetings, which eventually reached more than 5,000 agricultural producers, consultants, and agricultural industry leaders.

University of Minnesota Extension and outreach professionals and Extension Master Gardener volunteers established five citizen science research garden sites studying biochar (a charcoal like co-product of pyrolyzing biomass for energy production) as a soil amendment. More than 7,000 people visited the sites and/or participated in educational programs, and exhibits.

Biochar-Research-Master-Gardeners
Citizen Science: Master Gardeners in MN and IA conduct biocar research.

Programs for Youth

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C6 at the Iowa State Fair. Photo: CenUSA
Two groups of Extension collaborators focused specifically on youth outreach programming. Purdue University Extension and outreach professionals created interactive electronic lessons and established demonstration plots of perennial grasses for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) career events, reaching more than 900 high school students. [Plot or Career event Picture]

Faculty and student interns at Iowa State University combined forces to create C6 BioFarm, a robust suite of STEM materials, for middle-school-aged youth. C6BioFarm includes an iPad app, supporting curricula and an iBook. These materials are available online to teachers and other youth mentors, such as 4-H and FFA leaders. C6BioFarm underwent two pilot tests, reaching 350 and 330 youth and adults respectively.  The C6 program has been used by more than 2000 people.

C6-BioFarm-iPad
C6 BioFarm iPad game
“The main purpose of C6BioFarm is to help connect the idea that fuels can be made from renewables and to help increase options for agriculture,” said Jay Staker, director of Extension science, engineering and technology at Iowa State University and a member of CenUSA’s Extension and Outreach Team. “The sub purpose is to help people better understand agriculture production in STEM careers and the economy.” [C6 Picture]

Challenges

Education efforts by Extension and outreach were not without challenges. Most notable was the lack of an established market for perennial grasses – due to lack of commercial facilities to process the grasses and depressed fossil fuel prices. Without biomass markets, it was not possible (in fact, it was unethical) for team members to encourage farmers to transition acres to production of perennial grasses.

The Extension team overcame this challenge by focusing on helping people understand that markets could develop.  The easily accessible educational materials generated by the project team will help farmers, industry leaders and Extension and outreach professionals move rapidly to produce perennial grasses once a market for them opens up.

Resources for Ongoing Learning

Working with CenUSA scientific researchers, the Extension team developed an in-depth portfolio of online educational materials, providing science-based information in easily understandable terms. Publications include decision support tools, fact sheets, research summaries, and videos. These educational materials will help producers, industry leaders, Extension and outreach professionals proceed quickly to produce perennial grasses when a market for them becomes more widely available.

These materials are available at eXtension.org, the CenUSA web site, and CenUSA’s video sites (https://vimeo.com/cenusabioenergy and https://www.youtube.com/user/CenusaBioenergy).

 Contributors to This Report

Authors: 

  • Jill Euken, Deputy Director, Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University

  • Amy Kohmetscher, Distance Education Specialist, Agronomy and Horticulture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

  • Susan J. Harlow, Freelance Journalist

CenUSA Extension and Outreach Team Publications

CenUSA Project Resources - information on the opportunities and challenges in developing a sustainable system for the thermochemical production of biofuels from perennial grasses grown on land marginal for row crop production.

Fact Sheets, Guides and Articles

Research Summaries & Case Studies

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Archived Webinars

Instructional Video on the CenUSA Vimeo Site and on the CenUSA YouTube Site

 

CENUSA Bioenergy logo

CenUSA Bioenergy is a coordinated research and education effort investigating the creation of a regional system in the Central US for producing advanced transportation fuels from perennial grasses on land that is either unsuitable or marginal for row crop production.* In addition to producing advanced biofuels, the proposed system will improve the sustainability of existing cropping systems by reducing agricultural runoff of nutrients in soil and increasing carbon sequestration.

CenUSA is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30411 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

 

 

 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.