(Jill Bock, Standard Democrat)
Southeast Missouri State University's Department of Agriculture hosted a grand opening ceremony for its Biomass/Biofuels Research and Demonstration Field at Southeast's Sikeston campus Thursday morning. A $200,000 two-year grant from the Delta Regional Authority, the Missouri Research Corp. and the Missouri Department of Agriculture is funding the effort.
Mark Hitt with the Missouri Department of Agriculture said the demonstration field is critical to the effort to develop biomass/biofuels research.
"This farm and the crops it produces will be vital to the development of the bioworks effort," Hitt said.
The Sikeston campus' 10-acre test plot is filled with soybeans and sweet sorghum, which will be harvested this fall. Sweet sorghum is typical of the alternative crops they will research, said Dr. Mike Aide, chairman of Southeast's Department of Agriculture.
Biomass is any plant material that can be converted into a fuel source or an alternative to chemicals in plastics, paints, carpets, adhesives, cosmetics, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and other products. He said the juices from the sorghum can be used to produce ethanol while the stalks can be ground into animal feed.
Aide said the Sikeston research plot will also look at miscanthus, switchgrass, sunflowers, canola and sugar beets.
"There is an agriculture revolution going on," Aide said, and, situated between St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., which also are involved in biomass/biofuel research and development, Sikeston will be right in the center of it.
Chris Evans with Missouri Delta Ag Bioworks said the university's establishment of research and development in biomass and biofuels is coming at a perfect time. Evans is looking for new biomass-based economic development opportunities in Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi, Stoddard, Butler, Dunklin and Pemiscot counties.
He said there is a real interest in Southeast Missouri by biomass and biofuel manufacturers and processing facilities.
"I believe Southeast Missouri and the ag community in general will benefit," Evans said about the new research and development efforts.
"Our region is ripe for substantial agriculture innovation and growth," Aide said. Through a partnership with the private sector, the region could be transformed.
According to Aide, the research done at Southeast's Sikeston campus will provide local farmers with new crops and new techniques that can increase their profitability. Also, the officials agreed it will bring companies interested in biomass and biofuels to the region, providing additional employment for area residents.
The students at Southeast's Sikeston campus will have the opportunity to work in researching proper growing techniques and evaluate varieties of plants used in the biomass industry. Companies are interested in having the students evaluate their product lines in the demonstration field, Aide said, explaining it will help the companies be more profitable by being able to offer products that work well in the region.
Describing it as "applied research," Aide added the students will also share their knowledge with the area's farmers and go on to use it themselves.
"While we are doing the research, we are also training the next generation of producers," Aide said. "Our students are engaged in this process. ... They will be in the creator class that will drive innovation."
Austin Littleton is a farmer in his third year of the ag program at the campus and listened to the announcement with two of his classmates. According to Littleton, the emphasis on research and development has given him the opportunity to experiment some with agriculture.
While he hasn't had a chance to plant some of the alternative crops on his family farm, Littleton said, "I wouldn't oppose it."
2401 N. Main St., Sikeston, MO