Several state agencies have unveiled guidelines created in congruence with University of Wisconsin researchers to promote the continued use of biomass energy in Wisconsin, despite the state’s current categorization as a leader in the field of biomass crop planting.
A statement released Tuesday by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and the Department of Natural Resources outlined a system of guidelines put in place to assist in the implementation of biomass energy.
The “Wisconsin Sustainable Planting and Harvesting Guidelines for Nonforest Biomass” document is the result of a two-year joint effort by the DATCP, DNR and a tech team at UW to establish the guidelines.
Sara Walling, DATCP bioenergy policy advisor, said Wisconsin is the first state that has looked at the process of creating guidelines for biomass crop planting.
“Wisconsin wanted to make sure that when markets developed for biomass crop planting, we had guidelines set up in voluntary fashion so that landowners can make informed decisions about when and how to plant these crops,” Walling said.
Walling said the guidelines are multi-disciplinary and are intended to provide guidance at the field level for farmers and landowners for not only how to plant the crops, but also on how to remove them.
Biomass crop harvesting involves growing crops that are not meant primarily for food.
“To have cheap biomass, which is a necessary catalyst, you have to have more yield per acre, and we can’t figure that out until we start planning it out,” said Troy Runge, assistant professor of biosystems engineering at UW.
Runge said increasing biomass crop harvesting brings many ecological benefits to the environment.
He said choosing more diverse crops, like those in a mixed prairie system, is better than having a monoculture crop like corn, which gives less back ecologically.
“Wisconsin has a lot of biomass, good soil for growing and lots of water,” Runge said.
He added that Wisconsin has a lot of land unsuitable for crops like corn that could be used instead to grow biomass crops.
Walling said the guidelines are also meant to speak to policy makers and landscape managers to better inform them about the trade options created when biomass crops enter the market.
“DATCP is promoting and encouraging biomass energy in the state because it offers diversity to agriculture systems,” Walling said.
She said biomass energy would open new income streams for farms and other agricultural facilities, which are prevalent in Wisconsin.
Still, Walling said the markets for biomass energy are not much established.
“There is renewable energy focus on solar and wind, but the economy and markets have not established themselves for biomass production yet,” Walling said.
The research for the guidelines utilized the expertise of a tech team from the DATCP, DNR and UW, according to Walling.
She said UW has already been doing this kind of research on biomass production, and the DATCP and the DNR worked with the university to effectively combine their information into the set of guidelines.
“We’re trying to be more proactive than anything in providing these voluntary guidelines. We’re putting them in place for when and if biomass energy takes off in the U.S.,” Walling said.