Farmers throughout west Tennessee will be planting a variety of alternative crops this spring in a “25Farmer Network” effort to identify the foundations for potential new supply chains for biomaterials.

The program, in which farmers dedicate a small research plot to new crops, is being coordinated through the Memphis Bioworks Foundation AgBio initiative.

Funded by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, the program called the “25Farmer Network” is the first step towards identifying crops that can be grown locally for a vast number of potential products ranging from novel health through biomaterials.

The 25Farmer Network is made up of leading farmers from across the 21 west Tennessee counties who are willing to spend time and effort exploring new possibilities. The farmers are planting 5 acres each of experimental crops, attending national meetings, and are contractually involved with Memphis Bioworks AgBio to focus on developing projects related to growing and processing alternative crops.

“When we launched AgBio last year, one of our goals was to expand the possibilities for area farmers by identifying renewable resources that could replace petroleum and other extracted minerals for the production of a wide variety of products,” said Steven J. Bares, president and executive director of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

“Biobased products include such things as biobased plastics and many other chemicals including cleaning products, automotive components, and even thousands of consumer products ranging from high fashion clothing to industrial plastics, as well as the better known biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.”

“I chose to participate in the 25Farmer Network to determine what alternative crops could be grown in west Tennessee as well as what economic development opportunities could be realized. I’m excited to be a part of what I consider to be a true economic development initiative,” said Jai Templeton, cotton, grain, timber and beef producer and mayor of McNairy County, Tenn.

“I feel that a progressive group of producers have been assembled and we will determine how well these crops can be grown in west Tennessee. At the same time the Memphis Bioworks Foundation is working to develop opportunities to market these crops. I believe that the successful completion of this project will prove to open countless economic opportunities for individuals and communities across the region.”

During the summer of 2009, the farmers in the program will be growing miscanthus, sunflowers, sweet sorghum, and switchgrass for use in the manufacture of biomaterials and biofuels. Their goal is to learn firsthand how to manage the new crops in the region and to assess their variability as a long-term source in an ongoing pipeline. With each new viable raw material source, the region becomes more attractive to bioenergy and biobased manufacturing companies to locate nearby.

“The result of a successful 25Farmer Network program is more alternatives for farmers; better and more productive use of our vast land resources for food, feed and biomaterials; and maximum utilization of our manufacturing and distribution infrastructure,” said Bares. “All of that means more and better jobs, and a cleaner, less fossil fuel dependant economy.”

The Memphis Bioworks Foundation is a not-for-profit organization, formed to lead the collaboration between public, private, academic and government entities to accelerate the growth of the bioscience industry in the region.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture promotes local produce and products and ensures safe and dependable food and fiber for all while conserving our natural resources.