Weed may sprout jobs

DeWayne Bartels
U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, (R-Peoria) said this morning during a tour of the Peoria Ag Lab that he supports production of pennycress as a bio-fuel because it could create local jobs.

A common weed in the fields of this area may lead to jobs. 

The weed, known as pennycress, has the potential to become not just a new bio-fuel but create jobs in Peoria County through Biofuels Manufactuers of Illinois, also known as BMI.

U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, (R-Peoria)Peter Johnsen, the former head of the Peoria Ag-Lab and chief technology officer, has assured him the company is ready to begin construction and production in the old Caterpillar Mapleton plant within a year. But, only if the state comes through with $20 million in loan guarantees.

Schock said he wants this project to move forward.

“Our leaders, in the past, have been reactive. We need to be pro-active,” he said, referring to job creation issues.

“There isn’t an American who doesn’t benefit from the agricultural industry ... we have to do a better job relating how what we do in agricultural area’s benefits those in urban area’s.”

Schock said this effort has his full attention because it could provide “green” jobs.

“Pennycress, I think, is our future,” Schock said.

Schock was in Peoria this morning touring the Peoria Ag Lab and speaking about the economic potential of the crop.

Pennycress is a common weed that began sprouting regularly in area fields when no-till farming became popular. The weed is prolific in its production of seed. because bio-fuel research was becoming popular and because there is such an abundance of pennycress seed  ag lab scientests sampled the seed and discovered pennycress seed is about 36 percent oil, almost twice the oil as soybeans. The weed’s oil when mixed with vegetable oil produces less fuel emissions and higher lubricating properties than regular diesel fuel

And, because pennycress harvesting would take place before soybean production it was deemed worthy of further investigation.

Pennycress, Schock said, allows for a “second-shift” in soybean fields. He said there are millions of acres of soybean production in Illinois, which creates a great deal of potential for pennycress production.

Schock said there is only one barrier to success for the BMI project — state loan guarantees amounting to $20 million. Five regional banks have agreed to lend BMI $20 million to get started.   

Schock said he is going to address the loan guarantee issue.

“These businessmen have the money to build the plant within 30 days of receiving financing,” Schock said. “Unfortunately, they are not getting the attention they need from the state. I will be placing a call to the governor.”

He said another barrier — creating incentives for farmers to grow the new crop — has already been addressed because he has been able to convince farm insurers to create a temporary insurance shield for farmers willing to take on production of pennycress.