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Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium


Coppiced Commercial Shrub Willow Crops Leafing Out

in Northern New York State

Contributors: Justin Heavey (SUNY ESF) and Timothy Volk (SUNY ESF)

Posted June 3, 2014

coppiced willow post first year
Figure 1. This shrub willow crop field in northern NY was planted during Spring 2013 and coppiced after the first growing season while plants were dormant. The shrub willow plants are now re-sprouting vigorously across the field. High plant population and thorough weed control in this field will allow the willow crops to quickly become well-established.

After a very long and cold winter, 800 acres of commercial shrub willow crops in northern New York State are springing back to life once again (Figure 1). The crops were planted in the spring and early summer of 2013 as part of the USDA Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) that provides financial incentives to land owners who commit to growing new bioenergy crops.

The shrub willow is now well-established on a one-year-old root system; the tops of the plants were coppiced (cut back) over the winter while the plants were dormant.

Coppicing is a cultural practice that takes advantage of shrub willow's natural ability to re-sprout from the base of the plant after cutting or harvest. This operation can be completed any time between the end of the first growing season (after leaf-fall) and before the willow buds begin to swell the following spring.

Coppicing can be completed with a sickle bar mower or disc bine equipped with sharp blades that produce a clean cut. The forward speed of the tractor should allow the stems to be cut cleanly and completely, without ripping the willow root system out of the ground.

The stems should be cut at a height of one to two inches above the soil surface. Coppiced stems are typically left in the field to decompose because only a small amount of biomass is produced (0.5 - 1.5 dry tons/acre).

coppiced willow
Figure 2. These shrub willow crops were planted Spring 2013 and coppiced after the first growing season. Each of the coppiced plants is now generating multiple stems that will contribute to the shrub willow rapidly capturing the site and shading out weeds.

Coppicing encourages more vigorous growth and more stems per plant. This creates a fuller plant canopy that closes more quickly and helps to shade out weed competition. Previous studies have shown that the number of stems on shrub willow plants in the first growing season ranges from two to five, while coppicing can generate eight to twenty stems per plant (Figure 2).

New stems and leaves on the coppiced plants in northern New York are now re-sprouting vigorously from the one year old plant stools (stumps) and roots, and the plants will put on several feet of height growth over the next few months.

For additional information or technical inquiries on shrub willow bioenergy crops, please contact:

Justin Heavey
Senior Research Support Specialist
(315) 470-6775
NEWBio (consortium members below) is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2012-68005-19703 
from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
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