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University of Minnesota researchers call for sustainable bio-economy

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL ( 6/14/2007 ) -- New "green" energy crops have the potential to create sustainable economies and revive rural areas if policies are tailored to maximize that potential, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota.

Their call to action is published in the June 15 edition of the journal Science.

"We're calling for a more sustainable approach to developing biofuels and other new bio-products," said lead author Nick Jordan, a professor in the department of agronomy and plant genetics.

While most research on using grasses and other plants to create energy is focused on producing the highest yield for those crops, the authors suggest a broader approach that also considers concerns about climate change, wildlife habitat and healthy economies in rural areas.

In a multifunctional approach to farming, commodities such as fiber for energy production are produced in a way that also provides ecological benefits such as improving water quality. Biomass production, because it's generally less harmful to soil and water and provides habitat for wildlife, has the potential for significant ecological benefits, said Jordan.

The authors call for a network of research and demonstration projects that would test the economic viability of large-scale multifunctional systems of biomass production. The 2007 Farm Bill, currently under discussion in Congress, provides an opportunity to set up such a network.

"The idea of multi-functionality has just not been on the radar of most agricultural colleges," said Jordan. "Our goal is to raise that issue."

The researchers are part of the Green Lands, Blue Water initiative, www.greenlandsbluewaters.org, which is a consortium of land-grant universities and agricultural, environmental and rural development non-profit organizations. ----------