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Growing Poplar – A Landowner’s Perspective

By Betsy Fradd, WSU Extension
June 2015

Bob and Bobby Kirtlan look up at their poplar trees.

Sixth generation farmer Bobby Kirtland and his dad, Bob, have traditionally grown sugar beets, corn, tomatoes, and safflower in California’s Sacramento Delta.  So when the opportunity came to grow poplar specifically for bioenergy for an Advanced Hardwood Biofuels demonstration site, they were eager and enthusiastic.  “We try to get a jump on (other farmers), go in before anyone else does and do something new,” said Bobby Kirtlan.

At the Kirtlan’s Clarksburg farm, the poplars are showing robust spring growth from their cut root stalks after the initial coppice harvest in the fall of 2014.

Industry partner GreenWood Resources sought 50 acres of marginal farmland to grow this crop.  “Our soil has a high PH content and an alkali layer,” said Kirtlan.  “The trees have done really well in this environment.”

An on-property canal is used for irrigation which Kirtlan oversees along with digging furrows and some cultivation.  “We use a Crisafulli pump about every two weeks and it takes eight to twelve hours per set or about two days to finish the irrigation,” said Kirtlan.  “There’s not a lot of labor involved and it’s rather simple to take care of.”

GreenWood Resources checks the trees and site periodically to assess tree growth, detect problems from pests or pathogens, collect data from soil monitoring equipment, and repair any damage caused by animals to the data cables and lysimeters used to determine the amount of water-soluable matter.

Growing poplar to help the environment is also a motivating factor for Kirtlan.  “Green energy is new for everybody,” said Kirtlan.  “I think a lot of farms throughout the U.S. really need to look into this.  It seems like it’s better for everything.  I want to be able to do my part and this is one way I can do that.”

Bob and Bobby Kirtlan