Commercial Production of Tree Energy Crops

We are scaling results from research plots to commercial tree plantations to develop management systems for a new bioeconomy.

Research question

Across northern Michigan is a rich agriculture land base, surrounded by forests, but still amounting to hundreds of thousands of acres. Crop production is a challenge far from urban markets, and many lands have been retired from food production or are presently in very low-intensity use. Could retired agriculture land be directed to a new purpose, growing raw materials for a bio-based industry? Small-scale test plots show that hybrid poplars can be very productive, but can these results be reliably scaled to larger fields grown using efficient, commercial plantation techniques? In this project we will establish commercial scale (15-30) acre plantations in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan to answer questions about scale, to demonstrate energy crop potentials, and to provide test beds for future research on crop physiology, management, and eventually biomass harvest.



We are identifying one or two sites in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan that are promising candidates for conversion from retired agriculture to biomass energy plantations. Conditions that define such sites include: no recent active use for food production, appropriate soil conditions including good moisture holding capacity, reliable machine access, and landowner willingness to plant tree energy crops on an 8-12 year rotation. Sites will be prepared for planting using a combination of herbicides or cultivation to control competing weeds, and planted in spring using commercially available clonal hybrid poplar planting stock. Measurements will be made of pre- and post-conversion conditions including soil carbon to facilitate life-cycle analyses of greenhouse gas emissions. Growth and survival measurements will be made starting in the 1st year to estimate productivity and to contribute to a regional network of poplar plantation experiments and demonstrations that will be used to develop general models of yield and management recommendations and support commercial development of a biomass for bioenergy and bioproducts industry.


Progress and Results

Final Project Report:

Commercial Plantations of Tree Energy Crops