• Novel Approaches to Optimise Early Growth in Willow Crops

      Donnelly, Isabella; McDonnell, Kevin; Finnan, John; Teagasc Walsh Fellowship Programme (MDPI, 2019-06-03)
      Willow is a fast growing, high yielding biomass crop that can help reduce reliance on fossil fuels. However, long establishment times to get to profitability and sustainable yield may deter interest in planting the crop. A number of different approaches were investigated to optimise and accelerate early growth. These approaches were water immersion, plastic application, altering stem orientation at planting, altering coppicing timings and applying growth hormone. Glasshouse and field trials were used to test the different approaches. In this work, planting material was soaked for a varying number of days and plastic was applied or not applied in field trials. In the planting orientation approach, stems were planted diagonally or vertically with half of the planting material above the ground level or horizontally below ground level. Additionally, willow crops were coppiced at different times throughout their first growing season and a growth hormone trial was also incorporated in this work. Water soaking, plastic application, coppicing during the growing season or hormone application did not improve early growth or yield. However, early growth and yield were increased by manipulating the planting orientation of willow stems. Planting orientation treatments in which part of the stem was left above the ground increased early growth and yield significantly compared to the control without requiring extra inputs at planting. The beneficial effects of coppicing can be achieved by manipulating the planting procedure so that the first year’s growth is not disregarded.