It is a living thing. It provides life in numerous ways and plays an integral part in providing us with food as well as fuel, fiber, and shelter. Therefore, it is crucial to consider what you can do to help protect this excellent resource for future and present generations.
One way farmers can help protect soil is by making utilization of cover crops. Crop cover. They are “crops grown for the protection and enrichment of soil.” The advantages of using cover crops on land used for agriculture have been widely recognized for years. But, the acreage that is covered by these crops is incredibly tiny. The reason behind this is that cover crops generally need to be able to generate financial returns, so it’s expensive for farmers to use this excellent source.
That’s where the pennycress excels as a fantastic alternative to conventional cover crops.
Pennycress is a cover crop that farmers can use across the Midwest. It does not only provide services for cover crops, such as erosion control, and provides pollen to pollinators but also functions to earn money during its second year. The seeds are oil-rich and are used to make biodiesel, bioplastics, and as a source of low-cost protein from plants. Credit: Zenith Tandukar
It bridges the gap between the first year of harvest and the following year’s planting. While it is growing, it is also a beneficial crop similar to other cover plants. It helps protect the soil from erosion, nutrient leaching, and early spring weeds. It is also an attractive choice for pollinators during the early spring when other flowers are scarce.
As an evergreen cover for fallow crops, and produces seeds with oil! This plant requires only minimal nutrients following its planting, and its roots can be harvested and sold to earn a profit-making cash-flow margin. Every acre of pennycress has the potential to yield 50-100 grams of oil. Pennycress oil could be converted into biodiesel or a renewable diesel.
Oil is, however, only one of the many usage instances of pennycress. It can also be used to create bioplastics and is a cheap source of plant-based protein. With the proper infrastructure and optimization of the supply chain, using the pennycress plant as a cover crop and harvesting it can significantly boost the profits of US farmers. This is why pennycress has been dubbed”the “cash cover crop”!
Pennycress plots at their rosette stage will be dormant for months beneath the snow and withstand frigid Midwest temperatures. The photo on the right shows the same field seven days after the previous image was taken following an ice storm. Pennycress can withstand extreme cold and snow (-30 oF) and still be a good cash crop next year. Credit: Zenith Tandukar
Closing the gap between harvest and planting in most parts of the Midwest and the Upper Midwest with a new crop can take time to understand. It is a good thing, too. The region is subject to extreme snowfall and sub-zero temperatures throughout the majority of the winter season and into early spring. Fortunately, pennycress is winter-hardy. With minor damage, it can withstand snowfall, snow cover, and extreme temperatures as low as 30 degrees to -30F.
Typically, the pennycress plant is established in the fall and then grows into a rosette stage before the winter storms and freezing temperatures begin. Then, it is dormant much of winter in the snow, waiting to let the snow disappear in spring. As temperatures rise and the pennycress enters the reproduction phase of its cycle, it flowers and then sets seeds. The seeds can be harvested and then pressed to extract oil for biofuels that are renewable in their present state. Also, it could be a food product similar to canola oil by using breeding.