July 25, 2012 Edition

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Miscanthus could have
important role in NEA's future

Tim Wooldridge (right) of Paragould talks with Dr. Harold Willmuth about the potential for the crop, miscanthus, as an alternative fuel source.

John Bland

Miscanthus, a crop that is new to Lawrence County and Northeast Arkansas, could be important to the area's economic future. It is important because the crop can provide an alternative and renewable fuel source, according to Tim Wooldridge of Paragould, area manager in Northeast Arkansas for MFA Oil Biomass.

Wooldridge, former state senator who represented Lawrence County, spoke at a recent meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Walnut Ridge and told the group about MFA Oil's plans for miscanthus.

Miscanthus is a cane-type perennial grass that has been used for a number of years in Europe as an alternative fuel source, said Wooldridge. MFA is a leader in bio-fuel development and research, which led the company to miscanthus.

The U.S. Government has mandated that by the year 2022, our country must use a much higher percentage of renewable, non-food fuel sources. Federal fuel standards mandate that refineries in the U.S. must produce 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels each year by 2022, according to information on the MFA Oil website.

Miscanthus is now being grown in the area, with 6,588 acres planted in the spring across eight counties. Wooldridge said between 1,200 to 1,500 acres are being grown in the Strawberry area of Lawrence County.

Future plans call for the building of a miscanthus processing plant in Northeast Arkansas, and some 25,000 acres of feedstock will be needed to fuel the plant, he added.

Wooldridge has been working with area farmers to encourage them to grow miscanthus. The crop can be grown on marginal ground and is a fairly drought-resistant crop. He said the crop will not spread uncontrollably as it is a non-invasive, hybrid, sterile plant.

Getting area farmers what they need in order to grow the crop has provided challenges. "The logistics have been incredible," Wooldridge said.

Planting equipment for miscanthus had to come by ship from Europe, he said. Rhizome, the underground root and stem of the plant, are planted to grow miscanthus, and these rhizome must be transported in refrigerated trucks, Wooldridge explained.

There is a lot of acreage not being utilized that could be used for the crop, Wooldridge added.

According to an MFA fact sheet, miscanthus giganteus is harvested after winter and just prior to spring.

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