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Expanded Production and Harvesting of Willow Biomass Crops in New York State

Contributors: Dan Conable (Cato Analytics LLC), Justin Heavey (SUNY ESF) and Timothy Volk (SUNY ESF)

Over the course of 2013, commercial production of shrub willow biomass crops completed its first full year of northern New York State operations, representing the first successful large-scale deployment of willow crops in North America.

suny step planter in action
Shrub willow cuttings and Celtic Energy Farm's Step Planter in action, Cape Vincent, NY, May 2013

This first season of operations began when 830 acres of new willow crops were planted near Cape Vincent, NY, and ended when 130 acres of existing crops were harvested. This harvest produced 2,500 tons of willow biomass chips that were delivered to ReEnergy's biopower facility in Lyonsdale, NY. These operations were undertaken with support from the USDA's Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), and a partnership with ReEnergy, LLC.

Two hundred additional acres of mature willow from pre-established crops (located near Boonville, NY, in Lewis and Oneida Counties) was incorporated into the BCAP program and will be harvested and delivered to ReEnergy biopower facilities in 2014, for a total of nearly 1,200 acres of active commercial willow crop production.

ReEnergy owns three biopower facilities in New York State, and several others throughout the North East. As the sponsor of the BCAP program, ReEnergy contracted with growers to purchase all of the willow crops grown within the USDA-supported project area for a period of 11 years. This represents three crop rotation and harvest cycles. After the ReEnergy contract expires, growers will be free to market their willow as they choose. These plantings are expected to remain productive for at least ten additional years, or seven total harvest cycles.

Willow crop production in northern New York also receives support from NEWBio and the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA). Funding and technical assistance provide various extension services to growers, including outreach events, equipment sharing programs, innovative learning tools, crop monitoring, and analysis of the economics and logistics of the crop production system. The State University of New York School of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) is the lead organization coordinating these supporting projects. SUNY ESF also recently completed a relevant study of willow harvesting efficiency, work that was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and will serve to further improve the analysis, logistics, and economics of commercial willow production.

volk at boonville demonstration
Harvest Field Day, Boonville, NY, October 2013: Dr. Tim Volk, SUNY ESF, explains the production cycle of shrub willow.

In addition to outreach events and field demonstrations held for farmers and agricultural professionals during the 2013 growing and harvest seasons, SUNY ESF hosted a meeting of key stakeholders for Northern New York willow production, engaging growers, nursery stock producers, researchers from Cornell University who are developing advanced feedstocks, NEWBio project members, graduate research assistants, and representatives of Cato Analytics, a New York State consulting firm that specializes in biomass supply chain development. The stakeholders meeting focused on lessons learned from the 2013 planting and harvesting campaigns, as well as potential improvements to SUNY ESF's EcoWillow economic model of willow crop production, and resulted in key findings on these topics: challenges and strategies for planting commercial-scale acreage; opportunities for further improving harvesting machinery and logistics; how to best incorporate these findings into economic analyses and other models of crop production to further optimize the overall system.

These findings, along with data collected throughout the 2013 planting and harvesting seasons, are now being incorporated by SUNY ESF with the DOE harvest study. These results will also update the EcoWillow economic model, and inform a simplified willow budget model produced by NEWBio and Penn State Cooperative Extension. The Willow Budget Model fact sheet will join an existing series of publications that provide similar analytic frameworks for Miscanthus and other bioenergy crops that are the focus of the NEWBio.

News on the release of these tools, publications, and other events related to willow biomass crops will be made available through NEWBio's eNEWS, the project's website and by SUNY ESF (www.esf.edu/willow).

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

Justin Heavey
Senior Research Support Specialist
SUNY ESF
(315) 470-6775
jpheavey@esf.edu
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