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Mayor Ron Corbett to Attend Miscanthus Planting at The Eastern Iowa Airport


Press Event:

When: May 15, 2015 at 10:30 am

Where:   Old Armory Building off of 18th street at The Eastern Iowa Airport

Who:   Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett will be at The Eastern Iowa Airport to start planting with Repreve Renewables and the University of Iowa

Why:   Planting of Miscanthus for the University of Iowa Biomass Fuel Project

Let the planting begin at The Eastern Iowa Airport

Cedar Rapids, IA: It might come as a surprise to many, but The Eastern Iowa Airport is one of the largest farms in Linn County. The airport farmland, leased and farmed by five local farmers, has over 2,000 acres in corn and soybean production. The land is also located at the top of the watersheds for both the Cedar and the Iowa rivers.

To help the airport improve its farming practices to reduce nutrient runoff and play a more prominent role in producing renewable resources, The Eastern Iowa Airport is partnering with the University of Iowa and converting approximately 65 acres of farmland to growing a dedicated energy plant called miscanthus. This large perennial grass is a sterile, noninvasive variety that strikes a balance between agronomic and conservation goals.

As a deep-rooted perennial grass, it provides soil and water quality protection similar to natural prairie. But the high-yielding crop also produces an annual 12-foot-high crop every year for 15 to 20 years with low fertilizer and pesticide demands.  This allows miscanthus to produce more biomass of fuel per acre, and per unit input, than other types of grass or prairie, thus making it more economically viable and reducing the amount of land needed for fuel production.

Perennial grasses offer many benefits for biomass crop production, including:

  • sequester more carbon in the soil than traditional row crops;
  • grow on ‘marginal’ agriculture lands;
  • require significantly lower inputs of fertilizer and pesticides;
  • provide a new revenue source, coupled to energy prices;
  • improve both soil and water retention as well as quality; and
  • improve wildlife habitat.

In 2010, University of Iowa President Sally Mason created the 2020 Vision targets to green the University of Iowa’s energy portfolio. The second goal of this plan was to identify and implement renewable resources that can replace or offset fossil fuel consumption. The university is charged with achieving 40 percent renewable energy consumption by 2020. The Biomass Fuel Project aims to identify, test, and integrate biomass feedstock for the use of co-combustion biopower to help achieve this goal.

“This project fits well with the overall efforts the City of Cedar Rapids is taking in improving water quality,” Said Ron Corbett, Cedar Rapids Mayor. “We have formed the Middle Cedar Partnership Project (MCPP) to work with local conservation partners, farmers, and landowners north of Cedar Rapids to install best management practices to help improve the Cedar River Watershed and water quality in Cedar Rapids. The airport projects address our responsibility to those communities further down the Cedar and Iowa Rivers. The state of Iowa has implemented the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy requiring a 45 percent reduction in nitrate and phosphorus coming out of Iowa. We all have to work together to accomplish that goal.”

“Up to now, there have been lots of good reasons to grow perennial energy crops, but money hasn’t been one of them”, said Emily Heaton, assistant professor of agronomy at Iowa State and extension biomass specialist. “By providing growers with a stable, long-term market, the UI Biomass Fuel Project removes much of the risk associated with trying a new crop like miscanthus. Even if the farmer decides not to stay in the program, the fields enrolled will end up in better condition than when they were planted. We are pleased to be working with the UI and The Eastern Iowa Airport to provide research answers to miscanthus questions in support of this project.”

“Growing perennials for energy production provides an opportunity for landowners and growers to produce revenue, while simultaneously improving environmental performance of their agricultural operations,” said Ferman Milster, Principal Engineer – Renewables at the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability.  “We are excited to be able to partner with Eastern Iowa Airport, and thankful for the opportunity this project provides to demonstrate sustainable energy production in Iowa.”