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Illinois State, elected officials praise cover crop research

LEXINGTON, Ill. (AP) — Illinois State University researchers and administrators joined elected officials in praising what they say is an environmentally friendly and financially beneficial alternative to corn and soybeans during an event at the school’s research farm.

John Sedbrook, ISU professor of genetics, said a “team effort” to develop pennycress allows the university to involve students in “cutting-edge research” that spurs the economy and generates jobs.

The school is collaborating with several other universities and CoverCress Inc. on the project. It aims to develop pennycress as a cover crop that averts topsoil loss and nutrient runoff and provides a profitable source for fuel and animal feed.

Some state and federal lawmakers were at the farm Oct. 12 to get an update on the project and other research, The Pantagraph reported.

ISU President Larry Dietz lauded pennycress, once considered an ordinary plant, as “the wonder weed.”

The project has received a five-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and a $13 million grant from the Department of Energy. There also has been $14 million in private investment.

“When you look at the potential for this, it’s really phenomenal,” said U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap.

Chris Handel of CoverCress said the first commercial planting will happen in 2021 on about 2,000 acres. They expect 50,000 acres to be planted with pennycress the following year, she added.

State Sen. Bill Brady. R-Bloomington, dubbed pennycress “a game changer” that would help both the agricultural economy and the environment.

Michaela McGinn of CoverCress said planting cover crops has value, but it’s also costly, including the wearing down of machinery. The advantage of pennycress is that it provides nutrients for animal feed and oil for biofuels, she noted.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said the state is “looking ahead to the future,” adding that the comprehensive research will “benefit the country.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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