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Elsewhere in ag utilization

Editor’s note: As a service to our readers, we provide news about the work of others in the ag utilization arena. Often, research done elsewhere complements AURI’s work. Please note that ARS is the research arm of the USDA.

Kenaf’s along for the ride

Kenaf is a fiber source for low-grade paper, particle board and oil absorbents. But kenaf fiber may find its way into car interiors as lightweight insulation against road noise. One advantage of kenaf is its low density — more fiber for less weight. Kenaf fiber’s many pores also serve as a natural trap for sound waves.

Source: Dharnidhar V. Parikh, USDA-ARS Southern Regional Research Center, New Orleans, LA, (504) 286-4406,

From swine to swimmers

Four years ago, Robert Harrison of Hurdland, Mo., switched from hog production to fish. Between restocking lakes and ponds and supplying food fish to niche markets, Harrison’s balance sheet has gone from red to black; his biggest problem is keeping up with demand.

Source: Robert Harrison, (660) 423-5482.

Corn’s positive energy balance

A Michigan State University study finds ethanol from corn has a positive net energy balance. MSU chemical engineer Bruce E. Dale’s work contradicts the earlier work of Cornell University’s David Pimentel, whose research has been cited by critics of ethanol production. Dale notes Pimentel’s report used inaccurate and old data regarding corn yields, energy inputs and byproducts.


Color Cargill Dow green

Cargill Dow, LLC received the Presidential Green Award in June for its NatureWorks PLA process to make plastic from corn. The NatureWorks technology uses up to 50 percent less petroleum resources than comparable plastics. In addition, PLA generates 15 to 60 percent less greenhouse gases.

In April, Cargill Dow opened the first world-scale manufacturing plant for PLA in Blair, Neb. At capacity, the plant will produce more than 140,000 metric tons annually for customers in North America, Europe and Japan. Companies such as Coca-Cola, Sony and Dunlop are already using NatureWorks PLA in products and packaging materials.


The world likes windy Dakotas

Informational meetings on wind energy were held in several South Dakota communities in July. Senator Tom Daschle says developers from around the world see South Dakota as a potential location for large-scale wind energy development.


Straw earns bucks in Texas

Some Texas farmers are earning an extra $36 per acre by selling wheat straw to Affordable Building Systems in Whitewright, Texas. ABS converts straw into building panels, primarily for commercial office construction.

The composite panels’ advantages include sound and fireproof qualities, easy installation and adaptability, and cost savings. ABS is one of four companies invited to travel to Washington, D.C. to bid on the Pentagon’s renovation.

Source: Delta Farm Press, July 12, 2002.

Seize the carbon

Louisiana-based Entergy Corp. has agreed to lease sequestered carbon credits from the Pacific Northwest Direct Seed Association as part of a pilot program to offset carbon emissions from Entergy’s power plants. More information on carbon sequestration can be found at

Source: Cooperative Partners, May/June 2002.

Switching to grass

Alliant Energy is testing small amounts of switchgrass as an alternative to coal at its Ottumwa generating station in Chilicothe, Iowa. Eventually, switchgrass could comprise five percent of the fuel burned at the station. About 80 farmers are involved in the project, which is managed by Chariton Valley Resource Conservation & Development, Inc., of Centerville, Iowa.

Source: Hay & Forage Grower Magazine, December 2001.

Biodiesel boom

The State of Minnesota will require a two-percent blend of vegetable-oil or animal-fat biofuel with diesel fuel by June 2005, sooner if certain production levels are met. While Minnesota is the first state to mandate a biodiesel blend, it is unlikely to be the last. Such legislation is being considered by the U.S. Congress and other states. Legislation is also pending to provide tax breaks so biodiesel can compete with petrodiesel.

Source: Rural Business and Co-op Newsletter, Spring 2002; Doanes Agricultural Report, June 14, 2002.

Bread of soy

An Ohio State university researcher has developed bread with 6.25 grams of soy protein per serving. Seventy percent of taste-test participants preferred it to a wheat bread. Food manufacturing giants as well as neighborhood bakers may license the recipe from OSU.

Source: Illinois Soybean Farmer Leader Newsletter, May 2002.

Soy gel plays ball

Researchers at Southwest Texas State University have formulated a soy-gel ink for use in inexpensive ballpoint pens. Made with soy resin, the new ink performed well in early testing and may be an economical alternative to ink made with petrochemicals.

Source: Illinois Soybean Farmer Leader Newsletter, May 2002.

Butter from the sun

Sunbutter, ground from sunflower seeds, is a fresh alternative to peanut butter, to which some people are allergic. It was developed through an agreement between ARS and Red River Commodities, Inc., Fargo, N.D.

Source: Doane’s Agricultural Report, June 21, 2002.

Landlocked ginseng

Ohio State University researchers are attempting to grow American ginseng and other non-timber forest products in order to boost profits for farmers raising alternative crops.

According to the USDA’s National Agroforestry Center, prices for wild- simulated ginseng have risen high enough to be profitable for landowners with suitable land. Buyers pay between $300 and $400 per pound for wild ginseng root, compared to $10 to $15 for greenhouse-cultivated roots.

It takes about nine years to grow a marketable ginseng root. According to the Agroforestry Center, ahalf-acre of wild-simulated ginseng could yield a net profit of $16,300 over a nine-year period.

Source: Rafiq Islam, Ohio State University, (740) 289-2071,

Eco to the East

Recent declines in cost and increased emphasis on eco-friendly products have led to greater use of “green” plastics in Japan.

Bioplastics have also become more resilient and are making their way into electronics product casings such as those in Walkmans and personal computers.

Source: Financial Times Limited.

Milk fat comes out fighting

Milk fat, maligned as a heart-disease contributor, produces a potent cancer-fighter, say Ohio State University scientists. Using lab mice, the scientists found that about half of the vaccenic acid consumed in milk fat is metabolized into conjugated linoleic acid, a powerful natural anti-carcinogen. The process is called desaturation.

Source: Don Palmquist, Ohio State University, (330) 263-3795,

Other than wood …

About 250 native Minnesota plants are subject to commercial or hobby harvest, according to a new University of Minnesota Web site titled “Non-Timber Forest Products and Implications for Forest Managers.” Four brochures are available that detail the production and marketing of specialty forestry products.

Source: University of Minnesota Extension Service, 1-800-204-1295,,,

Believe it’s better

The Better Bean Initiative is a checkoff-funded program designed to accelerate the development and availability of U.S. soybeans with enhanced oil and meal composition. Over the past three years, BBI has been the focus of ARS scientists at nearly a dozen locations. The first variety developed through BBI is “Satelite,” which produces half the saturated fat and linoleic acid of conventional varieties. Oil from Satelite is being tested by food manufacturers.

Source: Progressive Farmer, July 2002.

Pondering sweet potato pies

Southern Growers, Inc. in Mason, Tenn. is using a $150,000 market development grant from the USDA to develop business and marketing plans for processing sweet potatoes into retail products, particularly sweet potato pies.


Hungry for TSP?

Textured soy protein (TSP), a nutrient-dense food, is being used to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s hungry, thanks in part to the checkoff-funded World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH).

TSP is currently being distributed by relief agencies in Guyana and is in school lunch trials in the Republic of Georgia. In Botswana, a program incorporating soy into local foods is being developed. WISHH holds training workshops for volunteer organizations to show them how to include soy in food relief programs.

Source: Illinois Soybean Association, Theresa Miller, (309) 663-7692,

Loving the locals

Consumers choose locally grown food because it’s fresh — and to support small local farmers. They are also more willing to pay higher premiums for “locally grown” than “organic,” according to a new University of Minnesota analysis by Luanne Lohr. Her report is available on the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Web site at

On a related note, the directory for Minnesota-grown produce can be found at

Source: Luanne Lohr, (706) 542-0847,

So many uses, so many alfalfas

Plant breeders at the ARS Plant Science Research Unit in St. Paul, Minn. are developing alfalfa varieties for niche markets. Varieties under development include one for bioenergy, one with a higher nutritive value for cattle forage, and others for growing on marginal soils, for fixing more nitrogen in the soil, for remediating excess fertilizer and pesticides, and for producing industrial products, including medicine, industrial enzymes or plastics.

Source: Don Comis, ARS Information Staff, (310) 504-1625,