© AgMedia Inc.
by GEOFF DALE & BETTER FARMING STAFF
In the fanciful Brothers Grimm fairy tale, dwarfish Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold to win the miller’s daughter’s first born child. The federal government is spending money to turn straw, and other products left after crop harvest and processing, into this Millennium’s equivalent of gold, green energy.
Last week in London, Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Joe Preston, speaking for federal agriculture minister Gerry Ritz, announced $8.7-million in funding over three years to assist the development of technologies to increase the industrial value of crops like surplus cereal straw now left in the field. The press conference was focusing on the scientific community.
A session for farmers in late April will focus on how agriculture fits into the development of government policies focusing on green energy.
“Agriculture is essential to this process,” says event organizer Dianne Cunningham, director of the Richard Ivey School of Business’ Lawrence National Centre for Policy and Management. “This is the generation of new jobs and Ontario is the best place in the world to grow the kind of crops needed for green energy production.”
Cunningham says the April 26-27 session, entitled Green Energy – Policies and Priorities will feature 25 or more speakers from the farming sector offering recommendations to the federal government. Ivey is hosting the event in London; the recommendations will be compiled and forwarded to the government.
Preston says “the funding will help farmers and rural communities thrive by developing more valuable crop varieties and better technologies.”
The Agricultural Biorefinery Innovation Network is spearheading the work, designed to commercialize bioproducts and bioprocesses. The network, composed of researchers across Canada, is under the auspices of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Network lead Franco Berruti, a professor and director of the University of Western Ontario’s new Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternate Resources, says government funding will help science, engineering and business sectors move ahead with research programs.
Berruti says Western’s teams are already working on the potential of residual crops for green energy use such as straw, corncobs and apples.
“After squeezing juice from the apples, you’re left with a residual material that is either disposed of in a landfill or can be turned into bio-oil or upgraded into pharmaceuticals,” he says. “We’re also working with grape skins and seeds.”
Network manager Chantal Gloor says research has also been carried out on the production of bio-oils from tobacco.
Stephen Morgan Jones, director general of sustainable productions systems with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, says work is at the “fairly early stages now” but adds, “Having farmers on board will be an essential part of the success at the end of the day.”
That’s good news for the agricultural community, adds Neil Currie, general manager, Ontario Federation of Agriculture, noting farmers are eager to get involved in policy discussions and recommendations at later meetings. BF