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Cashing in on Pennycress

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PENNYCRESS (2)

McLean County, Ill. (WEEK) -- From an annoying weed to a potential cash crop.

It's DNA has been changed thanks to research done at Illinois State University.

"Students right there have made genetic changes along with a partnership with CoverCress Inc. that has now changed this weed into a canola product," said Dr. John Sedbrook, a professor of genetics at ISU.

A canola product that has the potential to become biofuel, jetfuel, and animal feed among other products.

"3 billion gallons of oil turned into biofuels is the potential of this crop. This is not a small crop," said Dr. Sedbrook.

It's still only being planted in research fields, but over the next couple years they estimate the valuable weed to be harvested in about 50,000 acres.

"We need to start with a cluster of farmers to make this whole value chain work at the beginning I'm talking about not later on," said Chris Handel with CoverCross Inc.

Pennycress is planted right after corn and soybeans come out of the ground and are harvested before those two need to be planted again.

That makes this an opportunity for extra income for farmers.

Seeds won't be comercialized in the beginning though.

They'll be given to farmers willing to take part in the CoverCross Inc.'s project.

"The good thing about that is that the farmer doesn't have any cost until the Spring. The farmer gets the seed and uses the piggyback approach to plant it," said Handel.

$23 million dollars have gone into Pennycress research through USDA and Energy Department grants while private donations hauled in another $14 million over the past 10 years.

Alex Menke

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