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UV's Willow Project Breaks Ground

Farmland behind Unadilla Valley Central School is part of a new initiative to bring a potential new cash crop to the region.

Pellet willows were planted a few weeks ago in collaboration with the Creating Opportunities in Rural Education Institute, a shared service with six school districts in Otsego and Chenango counties.

The pellet willows are a bio-fuel that is ready for harvest in three years, according to CORE Institute Director Liz Rickard.

“This particular project is funded through the Appalachian Regional Commission as a part of a bigger grant,” Rickard said.

The pellet willow project has its roots in a very different idea for a crop on Unadilla Valley’s farmland. Around the time the CORE Institute was looking at possible projects, the craft beverage and food industry was beginning to blossom in Upstate New York. Hops were briefly considered as a possible crop, according to Rickard.

“But hops have a huge start-up cost,” she said.

Attention then shifted to pellet willows, which are used as a bio-fuel, in some cases in biomass power plants. UV Superintendent Robert Mackey and Rickard were aware of research on pellet willows done by Cornell University and plans were set in motion.

“It just kind of organically grew into an idea that was feasible,” Rickard said.

With the unused farmland, various science components and UV’s thriving Ag and Tech. program, the project seemed like an ideal fit for the school district. Students are part of the process and the project is intended to be a way for students to learn while doing.

“This project is a unique way to educate our students with a long-term, hands-on learning opportunity and provide some valuable research to the greater community on a potential cash crop that could benefit the region,” Superintendent Robert Mackey said. “It also cultivates a spirit of entrepreneurship in our students.”

One of the next phases of the project will be to identify consumers for the final product when it is ready for harvest.

“Colgate College was one of the first end-users that we became aware of and I reached out to them and it looks like they would be interested in using it,” Rickard said. “Rome also has a power plant that uses biofuel.”

Rickard is also asking community members if they have any ideas on potential users of the harvested willow. She said they can contact her at (607)286-7721 ext. 8421.

The CORE program is an innovative model program designed to assist local schools and provide rural students with additional academic opportunities to help them compete with their metropolitan counterparts. Between CORE’s shadowing program and Business Partnership Network, students are becoming more aware of local job opportunities and more prepared to make decisions about college and career.

Willow cuttings are planted behind Unadilla Valley Central School.
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