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Bone: Alternative Fuels plan could ease strain on Wilson farmers
Feb 07, 2007 12:00 am
A plan announced last week by Governor Phil Bredesen could offer a new source of revenue for Wilson County farmers according to state representative – and local farm owner – Stratton Bone.
Bredesen will offer millions in incentives to promote alternative fuel production in Tennessee, a plan he hopes will put the state at the forefront of renewable energy production. Bone said that the ambitious plan could be good news for local agriculture.
"We've all been looking for something to take the place of tobacco," he said. "Switchgrass could be the answer."
Bredesen's plan, announced Wednesday in Nashville, would funnel $73 million in state funds toward the production and distribution of bio-fuels – ethanol-based fuel produced from renewable crops, rather than petroleum gasoline made from decayed dinosaurs found underneath the ground in places like the Middle East.
As the country has slowly turned its focus toward reducing the demand for foreign oil (as well as the messy entanglements that go along with it), ethanol has emerged as the strongest contender for the next generation of fuel for cars and trucks. In the past the crop most often associated with ethanol was corn, grown mostly in the Midwest.
But recent research has increased public attention on switchgrass, a hearty crop that can grow in less than ideal conditions.
One part of Bredesen's plan provides grants for Tennessee to experiment with crop in the hopes that it will eventually be widely grown here. The grants are provided through Tennessee's Agriculture Extension program. Bone, who chairs the Agriculture Committee in the state House, called the grants "an exciting step" but added that when it comes to switchgrass there are still more questions than answers.
"It certainly could be something big here in Wilson County," he said, "but first we've got to figure out how to grow it – what kind of bails we need to use and what kind of equipment we'll need."
Before the grant program gets rolling, Bredesen's plan will face approval by the state legislature. Bone said he supports the plan and hopes it will be a part of a final state budget.
"This could be a great thing for the state and the county," he said. "I'm glad to see we're talking about it."
When he's not in Nashville sewing the seeds of new policy in the legislature, Bone runs a farm with his family in Lebanon. He said switchgrass could find a place on his fields.
"I'm gonna look at it for the farm," he said. "I'm anxious to see how it works."
Staff Writer Evan McMorris-Santoro can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or email@example.com