Kevin Smith, Professor
Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics
Sponsor: Forever Green Initiative, Clean Water Fund
Award Amount: $139,000
Silphium integrifolium is a native perennial related to sunflower that has potential to serve as a perennial oilseed crop in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Silphium research team is part of a multi-disciplinary international effort organized through The Land Institute to domesticate silphium as a perennial oilseed crop to contribute to the array of new crops developed under the umbrella of the Forever Green Initiative. We are making progress in breeding and management research, but realize that complementary research that addresses challenges in harvesting and processing will substantially advance this domestication effort.
In this proposal, we take advantage of silphium breeding populations that we have developed that are more homogeneous and improved for production traits and insights from our preliminary studies in agronomic management (planting density, planting date, and nitrogen application) to initiate new research to address harvesting and processing. Specifically, we will evaluate 1) spring mowing to improve synchrony of flowering and shorten plant height; 2) chemical application and mechanical swathing to accelerate harvest; 3) diversifying silphium monoculture with companion crops and polyculture to provide services including weed suppression, grain production during establishment season, forage production and reduced nitrogen leaching; 4) technologies and methods for processing silphium seed at a larger research scale to inform future commercial production and produce large samples for downstream research. This research will complement our ongoing genomics, breeding, and agronomic research and move us more rapidly toward practical silphium production in Minnesota.