Pella Chronicle

Local News

February 18, 2011

Benedict highlights importance of Prairie Biomas Project


Pella —

Biomass Project gifted land, funding

Central College Board of Trustees member Stan Poortinga and wife Gayle, and trustee emeritus Mark De Cook ‘64 and wife Kay Kuyper De Cook ‘63, donated 17 acres of land near the Carlson-Kuyper Field Station. The land will be used for the Prairie Biomass

Project, headed by Russ Benedict, associate professor of biology. The property was formerly farmland taken out of production, but the poor soil makes it ideal for the Biomass Project.

The project aims to regain the prairie which covered 85 percent of Iowa. Today, 99.9 percent of prairie has been destroyed in the state with an overall continental loss of 96 percent. Using 350 plots, Benedict plans to plant mixes of 64 different species to determine the best mix and method of planting and harvesting. The goal is to use the project to produce biomass for energy, provide habitats for plants and animals and decrease soil erosion.

“We hope to become leaders in the Midwest in encouraging the use of native prairie plants for agricultural use,” said Benedict.

The research site will also be used as a demonstration area for farmers, agricultural leaders and businesses. Students will be involved in every phase of the project, from designing and analyzing research to the physical management of the research site to even giving presentations to the public.

The project was chosen to be the recipient of a one-time mission gift of $5,000 from the Second Reformed Church.

“We want to be part of taking care of creation, through the restoration of habitat as well as seeking alternative energy sources,” said Pastor Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell.

Many science alumni have also donated money to the project, as well as the lobbying firm that represents Central College, the Normandy Group.

“With our work, the Midwest may look different in the future,” Benedict said. “Millions of acres that can’t be farmed could be planted with diverse prairie mixes. These plantings could be harvested to produce fuel and prairie plants and animals may rebound in numbers.”

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