RALEIGH — The N.C. Bioenergy Research Initiative and the New and Emerging Crops Program recently awarded $1 million in grants for 15 projects aimed at boosting bioenergy opportunities and crop production in the state.
The Bioenergy Research Initiative began in 2013, after the North Carolina General Assembly allocated funding. The initiative’s grants of $500,000 support the development of energy production from North Carolina agricultural and forest-based products.
The New and Emerging Crops Program began after the General Assembly approved it in 2018. By awarding $500,000 in grants, the program advances its mission of identifying potential new crops, value-added products and agricultural enterprises and providing the agricultural research, marketing support, and education necessary to make these crops commercially viable and profitable for North Carolina’s growers and agribusinesses.
“These grants allow researchers to test possibilities for our state,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “In some cases, the grants mean our research stations can continue great work that’s already been underway, while in other cases they’ll be tackling brand new projects. Either way, I’m confident they show promise as profitable endeavors for our state’s agriculture industry.”
Below is a list of grant amounts, recipients, titles and descriptions for each of the projects awarded through the 2020 Bioenergy Research Initiative:
- $33,212 to N.C. State University’s Department of Horticultural Science for a project titled Bringing Energycanes North. This project builds on previously funded projects by evaluating field trials of newly developed hybrids of energy canes. Breeding efforts will be expanded with the aim of introducing cold hardiness genes from the Miscanthus genus and the Tripidium genus into advanced energy cane lines.
- $122,594 to NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources for a 2.5-year project titled Sycamore: Sustainable Bioenergy-Improved Soil Health. The main objectives of this project are to 1) measure changes in soil chemical and physical properties to quantify improvements in soil health due to integration of sycamore into a short rotation coppice management scenario and 2) test the properties of sycamore wood for suitability for pellet production and energy yield.
- $105,000 to Carolina Land & Lakes RC&D for Pellets for Plants will expand on a previously funded project for two years. CL&L strives to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by using a carbon neutral, sustainable domestic fuel. This expansion will move to larger scale wood pellet and chip boiler furnaces capable of heating greenhouses in the Appalachia region of the state in nearly all conditions for the full growing season. Potential advantages of a pellet heating source for greenhouses include decreased fuel costs and decreased disease incidence due to plants growing in a drier environment.
- $53,609 to NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources to support Sustainable Pellet Production for Poultry, which aims to validate results of previously funded Pellet for Pullets projects. This comprehensive study will examine the technical and economic feasibility of wood pellets specifically produced for the Western N.C. poultry industry by assessing their accessibility, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and impact on bird productivity and survivability in broiler houses.
- $30,465 to NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources to help a postdoctoral researcher continue work on Loblolly Pine Biomass and Economic Analysis for one year. This project evaluates the biomass production of loblolly pine due to variations of silviculture, genetics and stand density to help landowners optimize production in their biomass plantations.
- $80,738 to Appalachian State University’s Department of Sustainable Technology & the Built Environment to fund a two-year project titled Biochar with Anaerobic Digestion: Enhancing Crops. This project builds upon previous work by investigating the synergy between anaerobic digestion and biochar technologies and the potential for improved soil quality using biochar combined anaerobic digestate on Appalachia soils.
- $74,382 to NCSU’s Cooperative Tree Improvement Program to continue for two years the project titled Loblolly Pine Biomass Genetics/Cropping Study. Large genetic differences exist for growth, disease resistance and stem form in pine trees. The aim of this project is to evaluate different planting stock (families) in combination with different thinning regimes in order to inform landowners how best to maximize returns when supplying both the bioenergy and saw timber markets.
Below is a list of grant amounts, recipients, titles and descriptions for each of the projects awarded through the 2020 New and Emerging Crops Program:
- $83,340 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science to fund Optimal Hemp Planting and Harvest Dates. Funding another year of this project may help validate the ideal planting and harvest periods for optimizing floral yield of industrial hemp grown in outdoor production systems. In addition, this project will demonstrate and evaluate the economics, safety and quality of hemp produced using different drying systems. The much-needed production information generated from this study will be disseminated through reports, scientific and extension publications, and through field days where growers will have the opportunity to gain hands-on learning experience.
- $71,767 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences to fund a second year of a project titled Nitrogen and Potassium Rates for Floral CBD Hemp Production. North Carolina growers have an immediate need for research-based fertility recommendations for industrial hemp grown for CBD. The goals of this project are to develop nitrogen and potassium fertility recommendations to maximize yield, establish plant tissue nitrogen and potassium sufficiency ranges, and evaluate if nitrogen, potassium and plant maturity affect floral tissue chemistry.
- $65,000 to the North Carolina Biotechnology Center to continue a project titled Feasibility of N.C. Purple Carrot Production 2019-2020. Purple carrots are a crop of interest for the growing fresh and processed vegetable markets, particularly the natural food colorant industry. Preliminary studies on variety and planting dates from the 2019 N.C. purple carrot trials yielded promising results. Additional research is needed on disease management and production economics before growers and industry can scale up production. This project will identify diseases that will be prevalent in N.C. purple carrot production, determine disease control options and evaluate production economics in order for growers and industry to determine if purple carrots grown in N.C. are economical and meet quality expectations.
- $20,000 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science for a project titled Goumi Berry, a New Small Fruit. The goumi berry is a temperate zone plant that produces large, red berries containing elevated levels of lycopene and flavonoids, important antioxidants. This two-year project will evaluate the growth and productivity of goumi berries to determine suitability as a new small fruit crop for North Carolina.
- $81,816 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science will fund a two-year project titled Improving N.C. Fresh-Market Muscadine Production. Muscadines are native to the southeastern U.S. and are believed to be the first cultivated grape in the country. Recent developments in research highlighting potential anti-cancer properties of muscadine products as well as the recent development of muscadine varieties with favorable consumer properties (e.g., thin skin, large size, seedless) have created new market opportunities. These new varieties bring challenges of how production practices and environment affect growth, fruit quality and shelf life. This project will develop postharvest protocols and guidelines for different sized muscadine operations, produce management guidelines specific to new muscadine varieties and develop a comprehensive education and training program specific to fresh market muscadines.
- $70,077 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science for a one-year project titled Purple-fleshed Sweetpotatoes for N.C. Farmers. Purple-fleshed sweet potatoes (PFSP) are packed with nutrients such as Vitamin C, anthocyanins and phenolics and possess a wide range of flavors, sweetness levels and textures. The goal of this project is to broaden the market options for sweet potatoes in North Carolina by developing and releasing new PFSP varieties. Funds for this project will be used to conduct on-farm and research station cultural management studies for potential new varieties, increasing PFSP seed stock for commercial scale testing, and developing a breeding nursery for improved next generation purple-fleshed sweet potato varieties.
- $68,000 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science to fund a one-year study titled Oriental Crisp-Flesh Melons for North Carolina. These specialty melons will offer North Carolina growers an alternative to the popular, but no longer available ‘Sprite’ melon. The objective of this research project is to develop varieties of oriental crisp-flesh melons with local adaptation to North Carolina’s unique growing environment. New varieties will have improved flavor and increased disease resistance.
- $40,000 to N.C. A&T State University’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to support a one-year project titled Turning Profits by Growing Ethnic Crops. North Carolina’s population is becoming more diverse with significant increases in the number of residents who are from Asia, Africa and South America. This, in addition to increased consumer demand for fresh and healthy foods, has led to an expansion of new restaurants, community grocery stores and farmer’s markets offering ethnic foods. Opportunities exist for North Carolina farmers to grow crops for this emerging market; however, there here has been limited research and educational programs in N.C. focusing on ethnic crops. The objective of this study will be to identify and evaluate three to four varieties of new and emerging specialty crops, mostly multifunctional ethnic vegetables, fruits and flowers grown in an organic production system. Information generated from this study will be shared at workshops and field days.