Shrub Willow for Bioenergy Applications

Shrub willow is a high-yielding perennial woody crop that can be grown on under-utilized agricultural land for use as a feedstock crop for bioenergy, biofuels, and bioproducts. However, shrub willow faces a major long-term threat of yield losses due to insect pests, which is best addressed through resistance breeding. Sustainability could also be improved through more precise application of fertilizer and through deployment of cultivars that use nutrients more efficiently.

Larry Smart, School of Integrative Plant Science, Horticulture, is using systems genetic approaches to characterize the quantitative trait loci, or sections of DNA, that control biomass quality and pest resistance. With this information, his aim is to breed new bioenergy willow cultivars with improved yield, nutrient conversion efficiency, and pest resistance. In addition, Smart’s team is accelerating the phenotypic selection of new willow cultivars by adapting unmanned aerial system (UAS) imaging technology for evaluating traits that are key for achieving high yield and reliable production.

The overall strategy to make use of the full power of UAS-based imagery is to extract the signals that differentiate genetic and environmental sources of variation. With this approach, Smart’s team will extend knowledge on the use of UAS imaging to assess crop status for commercial growers. They will develop new management strategies based on this rapid scouting and assessment technology. The research will greatly advance the application of digital and precision agriculture technology for biomass feedstock production.

NIFA Award Number: 2018-68005-27925

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1 Million spanning 3 years

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