Crops growing at Oxford research station hold biofuels potential

Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler speaks at Biofuels Center event at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station.

Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler speaks at Biofuels Center event at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station.

North Carolina has a strategic goal of having 10 percent of its liquid fuel come from locally grown and produced biofuels by the year 2017. Today in Oxford, the public and the press got a glimpse of crops that hold the key to meeting that goal.

The Biofuels Center of North Carolina played host to about 100 state and local leaders, researchers and biofuels companies and showed them how the center is working to help the state grow a biofuels industry.

Four acres of crops that are potential biofuels feedstocks are being grown at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station, which is operated by the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The center’s offices are located at the station.

Biofuels Center CEO Steven Burke, U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, state Rep. Jim Crawford and Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler talked about the future of biofuels in North Carolina and how the state’s farmers may benefit from the industry. Afterward, the audience got a tour of the 4-acre plot that includes sweet sorghum, switchgrass, tropical sugarbeets, industrial sweet potatoes and fast-growth loblolly pines. The crowd heard from scientists how the crops could be used in biofuels production in the future.

Sweet sorghum is one of more than a dozen crops with potential use for biofuels production that are being grown at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station.

Sweet sorghum is one of more than a dozen crops with potential use for biofuels production that are being grown at the Oxford Tobacco Research Station.

Butterfield said biofuels are necessary if the United States is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become less dependent on foreign oil. “We need biofuels and we need them now,” he said. “We need to make North Carolina the Saudi Arabia of biofuels.”

Commissioner Troxler said North Carolina agriculture is willing to do its part to reduce dependence on foreign oil. N.C. farmers can grow the crops needed once researchers determine which are the best and most efficient for producing fuel.

Biofuels can hold the key to saving North Carolina’s rapidly disappearing farmland, he said.

“I know we can do this in agriculture,” Troxler said. “We’ve got to grow a new industry.”

Crawford said that by making advances in tobacco farming, the Oxford Tobacco Research Station has helped people in rural North Carolina make a living. Now, by diversifying its acreage into potential feedstocks for biofuels, the station can continue to help rural areas. “This will be a whole new economy,” he said.

Burke said the Biofuels Center, which the General Assembly created two years ago, is making progress but still has many questions to address, such as how to grow the amount of feedstocks needed to meet the 10 percent goal, and how to change behaviors of farmers, consumers and investors.

Through continued national, state and regional cooperation, he said, the center will reach the goal. “We have a societal need and the commitment to do something about it,” he said. “We’re about to change the landscape of North Carolina.”

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