Miscanthus Boom Ahead

Repreve commits to planting 10,000 acres.
By Susanne Retka Schill | February 15, 2011

With recent investments bringing its capitalization up to $10 million, Soperton, Ga.-based Repreve Renewables LLC has committed to getting 10,000 acres of miscanthus planted this year. The company held a field day in January to show off its test plots and equipment to potential growers, but even if not enough farmers commit, says manager of commercial operations, Craig Patterson, “we’ll plant it ourselves. There will be 10,000 acres in 2011.”

That will be a huge leap in acres devoted to the high-yielding biomass crop. Repreve currently has 500 acres planted in five locations in the Southeast, which is equal to the total of all other miscanthus plots being grown now in the U.S. and Canada, Patterson says. The push to commercialize miscanthus got a boost in 2010 when Phillip Jennings, turf grass grower and founder of Sunbelt Biofuels, attracted new investors and folded his company into Repreve Renewables. The word "repreve" is a service mark of Unifi Inc. being used under license. Unifi is a Greensboro, N.C.-based global textile company, which entered the joint venture with Sunbelt Biofuels in mid-2010. A third, unidentified investor, brought the capitalization up to $10 million.

Repreve is licensing Freedom miscanthus from Mississippi State University, which developed the variety and continues to work on crop development. Patterson says one-year-old stands in the Southeast are expected to yield between 4 and 6 tons per acre, two-year-old stands about 10 and after four years, 25 tons per acre. Patterson believes Freedom miscanthus will be a good fit in the Southeast, where growing conditions and underutilized farm land will favor the long-lived perennial biomass crop. "All those that grew tobacco need something else," he points out. The high-yielding miscanthus will compete well with subpar corn and subpar soybeans, provide a crop for land that has become overgrown, and even yield as well or better than timber. Planting equipment used for tobacco has been modified for planting miscanthus rhizomes, although Patterson adds the new investments will allow for the engineering of larger, more efficient equipment. 

—Susanne Retka Schill