Agroforestry Biomass Projects at the Guelph Research Station

A long-term agroforestry research project led by University of Guelph researchers at the Guelph Research Station is being completed this winter. The project relates to biomass—non-food plants such as trees with the potential to be used for fuel. As part of that project, “short duration woody crops” such as poplar and willow trees and grass varieties were planted. To complete the project, they must now be harvested.

Harvest will take place starting Nov. 23, 2020 at two sites that front onto the east side of Victoria Rd. S. in Guelph between College Avenue and Stone Road. The University of Guelph is working with the forestry consultants and qualified contractors to ensure the work is completed safely and with respect for the soil and vegetation.

As an institutional project, the research plots and planted biomass trees are exempt from the City of Guelph’s tree protection by-law. Under the provisions of the by-law, a Tree Management Plan was submitted and approved by an inspector.

Work on this biomass project will further our understanding of growing biomass crops and enhance knowledge about carbon sequestration and alternative fuels. A list of publications stemming from this research is available in the Question and Answer section below.

There will be machinery and activity at the Guelph Research Station starting on Nov. 23, 2020 as trees and grasses in the research plot areas are harvested.

Aerial view of the plots  Aerial view of the plots from the East

University of Guelph staff in the Office of Research have been working with the City of Guelph to ensure the tree removal complies with local by-laws. As an institutional use, the research plots are exempt from the City’s tree protection by-laws. A Tree Management Plan was provided and approved.

Contacts:

If you have questions about the research station, please contact:

Remo Pallottini
Director, Research Facilities Management
Phone: 519-824-4120, Ext. 56639
Email: remop@uoguelph.ca

To learn about results from this project:

Please contact Prof. Naresh Thevathasan and see the list of publications from this project, below.

Questions and answers about the biomass harvest

A: Researchers began biomass projects at the Guelph Research Station in 2005 (phase 1) and 2009 (phase 2). “Biomass” refers to plant materials that can be turned into fuel. Plantations include dense plantings of willow and poplar varieties and various grasses (miscanthus, switchgrass) that are harvested at 5- to 10-year intervals; also referred to as short-rotation woody crops. As part of this project, trees were planted to assess their productivity; relationships with soil carbon sequestration; and potential of these bioenergy productions systems to offset carbon emissions.
The final assessment of the project will be made after the 2020 growing season, the data analyzed and reported, and the project discontinued. As planned, it is now time for a periodic harvest of the biomass research plots to assess their total biomass and continue with the data collection and reporting.
Work on this biomass project and will further our understanding of growing biomass crops on land that is not otherwise suitable for growing crops and further our knowledge about carbon sequestration and alternative fuels.
A: The Guelph Research Station, located on the east side of Victoria Rd. S. in Guelph, is a multidisciplinary research facility and home for agroforestry and biomass research programs. Research trials are conducted on site, including trials in agroforestry led by University of Guelph researchers in the School of Environmental Sciences. The Guelph Research Station is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between the Ontario Government and the University of Guelph.
The biomass projects are a partnership among of a number of agencies, including the: Canadian Wood Fibre Centre, Natural Resources Canada; Ontario Biomass Producer Cooperative (members); Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance, a collaboration between OMAFRA and the University of Guelph; and Ontario Ministry of Environment. The Guelph Research Station is owned by the Agricultural Research Institute of Ontario and managed by the University of Guelph through the Ontario Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.
A: The trees being harvested are located on the east side of Victoria Rd. S., mostly out of site from the road; they are NOT the tall trees lining Victoria Rd. The trees were planted in 2005 and 2009 and include: hybrid poplar clones, willow clones, polyculture (switchgrass, sorghum, big bluestem/grass, little bluestem), miscanthus and switchgrass. The trees are not part of the Arboretum.

Overhead view of hybrid poplar plots planted in 2005Overhead view of hybrid poplar blocks planted in 2009 ~13 hectares and concentrated willow blocks planted in 2009 ~3.0 hectares

Short rotation woody crops are harvested using heavy equipment referred to as a ‘feller-buncher’ that both cuts and bunches multiple stems at one time. The harvested material is then baled and taken from the site to commercial processing facilities where it is weighed, and further sampling can take place. The root systems of the trees are left in place and allowed to regrow for future harvest, also providing stability to the soil terrain.
A: The trees were planted as part of a research trial to assess the productivity and climate change mitigation potentials by the fast-growing biomass trees (hybrid poplar and willow) grown on less-productive lands. They were planted densely in such a way that they would not survive to maturity. Harvesting the trees is part of the normal growth cycle for these varieties planted in this way and part of the research cycle necessary to determine their biomass.
A: University of Guelph staff in the Office of Research have been working with the City of Guelph to ensure the tree removal complies with local by-laws. As an institutional use, the research plots are exempt from the City’s tree protection by-laws. A Tree Management Plan was provided and approved.
The University of Guelph will retain the services of qualified contractors and forestry consultants to prepare the necessary plans and complete the harvest.
A: The trees and grasses will be harvested at ground level, leaving the root systems in place. These varieties will regrow from the root bases which will continue to stabilize and protect the soil terrain.
A: No, the removal of trees is part of a research project that has been ongoing since 2005.

Below is a list of publications associated with the research project:

Ayerb, N.W., Goretty M. Diasa, G.M, Kariyapperumaa,K., Thevathasan, N., Gordon, A., Sidders, D. (2017). Life Cycle Assessment of Heat Production from Short-Rotation Willow in Southern Ontario, Canada. Applied Energy: 342-353

Bazrgar AB, A Ng, B Coleman, MW Ashiq, A Gordon and N Thevathasan (corresponding author). 2020. Long-Term Monitoring of Soil Carbon Sequestration in Woody and Herbaceous Bioenergy Crop Production Systems on Marginal Lands in Southern Ontario, Canada. Sustainability, 12, 3901. 16 pp.

Borden K, Marney E Isaac, Naresh V Thevathasan, Andrew M Gordon, and Sean C Thomas (2014). Estimating coarse root biomass with ground penetrating radar in a tree-based intercropping system. Agroforestry Systems: DOI 10.1007/s10457-014-9722-5.

Cardinael, R,  N. Thevathasan (corresponding author), A. Gordon, R. Clinch, I. Mohammed and D. Sidders (2012). Growing woody biomass for bioenergy in a tree-based intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems 86: 279-286

Clinch, R.L., N. V. Thevathasan, A.M. Gordon, T.A. Volk and D. Sidders (2009). Biophysical interactions in a short rotation willow intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agriculture, Ecosystem and Environment.131:61-69Coleman B, K Bruce, Q Chang, L Frey, Siyu Guo, MS Tarannum, A Bazrgar, D Siddrs, T Keddy A Gordon and N Thevasathan (corresponding author). 2018. Quantifying C stocks in high-yield, short-rotation woody crop productions systems for forest and bioenergy values and CO2 emission reduction. The Forestry Chronicle Vol 94, N0 3, p 260-268.

Graham J, P. Voroney, Brent Coleman, B. Deen, A. Gordon,. M. Thimmanagari and N. Thevathasan (corresponding author) (2018). Quantifying soil organic carbon stocks in herbaceous biomass crops grown in Ontario, Canada. Agroforest Syst: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10457-018-0272-0

Lutes K, M. Oelbermann, Naresh V. Thevathasan and A.M. Gordon (2016). Effect of nitrogen fertilizer on greenhouse gas emissions in two willow clones (Salix miyabeana and S. dasyclados) in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems. DOI 10.1007/s10457-016-9897-z.

Mafa-Attoye, T.G., N. Thevathasan and K.E. Dunfield (2019). Indications of shifting microbial communities associated with growing biomass crops on marginal lands in Southern Ontario. Agroforestry Systems.  DOI: 10.1007/s10457-019-00445-w

Marsal F., Naresh V. Thevathasan (corresponding author), S. Guillot,  A. M. Gordon, M. Thimmanagari, W. Deen, S. Silim, R. Soolanayakanahally and D Sidders (2016). Biomass yield assessment of five potential energy crops grown in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems. DOI 10.1007/s10457-016-9893-3

Muhammad Waseem Ashiq, Amir Behzad Bazrgar, Houman Fei, Brent Coleman, Kevin Vessey, Andrew Gordon, Derek Sidders, Tim Keddy and Naresh Thevathasan (corresponding author) (2018).  A nutrient-based sustainability assessment of purpose-grown poplar and switchgrass biomass production systems established on marginal lands in Canada. Can. J. Plant Sci. 98: 1–12.

Sean Simpson, Dunfield K.E., Khosla1 K., Lyons E. M., Thimmanagari M., Coleman1 B., Thevathasan N.V. (2020). The influence of biofertilizer effect on switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) crop yield under greenhouse and field conditions in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. American Journal of Agricultural Research 5:100.

Thevathasan N (corresponding author), Andrew Gordon, Jamie Simpson, Xiaobang Peng, Salim Silim, Raju Soolanayakanahally and Henry de Gooijer. (2014). Sustainability Indicators of Biomass Production in Agroforestry Systems. The Open Agriculture Journal 8: 1-11.

Wotherspoon, A., Naresh V. Thevathasan, Andrew M. Gordon and R. Paul Voroney (2014). Carbon sequestration potential of five tree species in a 25-year-old temperate tree-based intercropping system in southern Ontario, Canada. Agroforestry Systems: DOI 10.1007/s10457-014-9719-0

Zainab AL-Kaabi, Ranjan Pradhan, Naresh Thevathasan,  Andrew Gordon,  Yi Wai Chiangand and Animesh Dutta (2019). Bio-carbon production by oxidation and hydrothermal carbonization of paper recycling black liquor. Journal of Cleaner Production 213:332-341.

Reports

Thevathasan N. (2019). Quantification and long-term monitoring of soil carbon sequestration in woody and herbaceous bioenergy crop production systems on marginal lands in Ontario. U. of Guelph, School of Env Sci. 14 p.

Thevasathan N and Coleman B. 2017. Final narrative report: “Quantifying C stocks in high-yield, short-rotation woody crop production systems for forest and bioenergy values and CO2 emission reduction”. U. of Guelph, School of Env Sci. 11 p.