NCDA Awards $1 million in Research Grants

RALEIGH – The N.C. Bioenergy Research Initiative and the New and Emerging Crops Program recently awarded $1 million in grants for 15 projects aimed at boosting bioenergy opportunities and crop production in the state.
The Bioenergy Research Initiative began in 2013, with the allocation of funds by the North Carolina General Assembly. The initiative’s grants of $500,000 support the development of energy production from North Carolina agricultural and forest-based products.
The New and Emerging Crops Program began after the General Assembly approved it in 2018. Through $500,000 in grants, the program advances its mission of identifying potential new crops, value-added products and agricultural enterprises and providing the agricultural research, marketing support, and education necessary to make these crops commercially viable and profitable for North Carolina’s growers and agribusinesses.
“I continue to be impressed by our state’s agricultural researchers, and I’m happy to support their projects with these grants,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “I’m also happy that our state’s research stations provide a platform for most, if not all, of these projects. By investing in these research projects we are investing in possibilities for this state that could pay dividends for our state’s agriculture for many years to come.”

Below is a list of grant amounts, recipients, titles and descriptions for each of the projects awarded through the 2022 Bioenergy Research Initiative:

• $33,212 to N.C. State University’s Department of Horticultural Science to extend a project titled Bringing Energycanes North for two years. This project builds on previously funded projects by evaluating field trials of newly developed intergeneric hybrids of energy canes. Breeding efforts will be expanded with the aim of transferring cold hardiness genetics from Miscanthus and Tripidium into advanced energy cane lines.

• $99,423 to NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources for a two-year extension of the project titled Sycamore: Sustainable Bioenergy-Improved Soil Health. The main objectives of this project are to 1) measure changes in soil chemical and physical properties to quantify improvements in soil health due to integration of sycamore into a short rotation coppice management scenario and 2) test the properties of sycamore wood for suitability for pellet production and energy yield.

• $53,611 to NCSU’s Cooperative Tree Improvement Program to continue for two years the project titled Loblolly Pine Biomass Genetics/Cropping Study. Large genetic differences exist for growth, disease resistance and stem form in pine trees. The aim of this project is to evaluate different planting stock (families) in combination with different thinning regimes to inform landowners how best to maximize returns when supplying both the bioenergy and saw timber markets.

• $42,850 to NCSU’s Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources to continue support of Sustainable Pellet Production for Poultry, which will validate results of previously funded Pellet for Pullets projects. This comprehensive study will examine the technical and economic feasibility of wood pellets specifically produced for the western North Carolina poultry industry by assessing their accessibility, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and their impact on bird productivity and survivability in broiler houses.

• $100,000 to Carolina Land & Lakes RC&D for the WNC Regional-Scale Biofuel Demonstration project. This project will build on prior experience with western North Carolina poultry and greenhouse growers by demonstrating pellet and microchip furnaces in commercial, institutional and industrial settings. The purpose of the project is to demonstrate that wood waste can become a convenient, affordable, clean-burning, and climate-friendly source of heat in western North Carolina.

• $94,508 to NCSU’s Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering for a two-year project titled High-purity Bio-hydrogen from Biomass. Global demand for pure H2 has been increasing rapidly due to its super clean and highly efficient conversion to energy. The goal of this project is to enable cost-effective bio-hydrogen production using low-value biomass in lieu of production from natural gas reforming.

• $76,396 to Appalachian State University’s Department of Sustainable Technology for a two-year project titled Promoting Integrated On-farm Bioenergy Technologies. This project builds upon previous work on the synergy between anaerobic digestion and biochar technologies, and the potential for improved soil quality using biochar combined with anaerobic digestate on Appalachia soils by demonstrating this technology on three cooperator farms.

Below is a list of grant amounts, recipients, titles and descriptions for each of the projects awarded through the 2022 New and Emerging Crops Program:

• $50,000 North Carolina A&T State University’s College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences to support a one-year project titled Cultivating Grower-Buyer Partnership for Ethnic Crops. The proposed project builds on previously funded research by responding to three topics: testing productivity of specialty fruits and vegetables with high economic potential; training, education and demonstration for farmers; and testing the market potential of ethnic crops.

• $49,000 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences to continue funding Fostering Cigar Wrapper Tobacco Production for one year. Cigar wrapper tobacco has traditionally been grown in New England states. Increased consumer demand for cigar products has expanded those boundaries into North Carolina. Being a novel crop to our state warrants the development of recommendations for sustainable nutrient application practices and curing methodology.

• $80,000 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences for a one-year project titled Addressing Fiber Hemp Production Challenges. This project will expand on previous fiber hemp research and provide growers with appropriate variety, planting date and weed management recommendations in addition to promoting a greater understanding of fiber hemp quality as it relates to genetics.

• $71,000 to NCSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences to continue for one year a project titled Investigating Sesame Production in North Carolina. This project will build on 2021 sesame research which generated significant agronomic knowledge and interest from growers, seed companies and processors. This research will help determine optimal nitrogen fertility rates and row spacing while also evaluating potential organic crop desiccants for sesame. In addition, the project will evaluate the potential for sesame to suppress soil nematode populations.

• $48,218 to North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University to continue a project titled IPM for Vegetable Amaranths in N.C. for one year. Vegetable amaranth, not to be confused with pigweed, is a summer resilient vegetable that tastes somewhat like spinach and is a delicacy in high demand among immigrants from Asia, Central America and Africa. The proposal will build on 2021 research to determine the pest tolerance of different amaranth varieties, evaluate optimal row spacing, and determine the market potential of this new and emerging crop.

• $96,000 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science to continue for two years a project titled New Hop Varieties for North Carolina. There is an unmet demand for North Carolina grown hops to satisfy the craft beer industry. Because hops are a photoperiod sensitive plant, varieties bred for northern states produce low yields in N.C. This project will build on previously funded research which established research station and on-farm trials with two advanced NCSU hop selections to test the effects of training dates and fertilization rates on hop yields; monitor responses to insect and diseases; and refine cultural recommendations. Results of this study will be used to release these high performing N.C. hop selections as new public varieties and to develop a production guide.

• $59,000 to NCSU’s Department of Crops and Soil Sciences to fund a one-year study titled Investigating the potential for upland and flooded rice in North Carolina for the specialty grain market. There is a growing client-base for artisan and heirloom agricultural products. Carolina Gold Rice, grown on several plantations in southeast N.C. from late 1600s to the mid- 1800s, is one of the specialty crops sought by this growing market. This project builds on a previously funded project and will evaluate several rice varieties under both dry-land and flood production, determine optimum nitrogen rates and density for rice production, evaluate several herbicides to generate data for N.C. labeling, and evaluate efficient ways to mill rice without losses post-harvest.

• $46,782 to NCSU’s Department of Horticultural Science to fund Engineering Perennial Grasses into Soilless Substrates for two years. The greenhouse horticulture industry needs novel alternative and diverse renewable materials to meet the growing demand for soilless substrates, which is expected to increase over 420 percent by 2050. Building on successful breeding programs to increase biomass production of potential bioenergy feedstocks, this project will explore the utilization of these high yielding perennials as alternative materials for soilless growing media.