University News

Milkweed Makes History Friday

September 7, 2005

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MACOMB, IL – Introducing the latest Illinois crop … Milkweed!

Milkweed is going to make its first harvest debut in Illinois Friday, Sept. 9. Five acres of milkweed will be harvested Friday at 2 p.m. near the Western Illinois University Agriculture Field Lab (north of the Harry Mussatto Golf Course on Tower Road), making history as the first commercial milkweed field to be harvested in Illinois. The milkweed will be harvested using a snap bean picker donated by Hartung Brothers of Wisconsin.

As part of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s “Opportunity Returns” economic development plan, Western’s alternative crops research program, led by associate agriculture professor Win Phippen, received a $30,000 state grant in 2004 to boost its milkweed research. Phippen is the only researcher in the country working on milkweed as a crop and has now been working nearly four years creating a “domesticated” milkweed plant as an alternative crop for Illinois producers.

The grant was used to grow 150,000 plants in a local greenhouse and then transplant the milkweed on five acres of land belonging to a local producer who agreed to grow milkweed as a crop. The plants were transplanted -- 28,000 plants per acre – at the end of May 2004. Phippen and his students provided guidance to the producer who already has a direct contract with Natural Fibers Corp. for the floss.

Since 2001 Phippen has been working with Natural Fibers Corp, a company in Nebraska, to provide the company with milkweed floss which is used as nonallergenic fill in pillows and comforters. Currently the company is paying high school students to comb the countryside for milkweed and collect its fluff. The process is slow-going and thatÂ’s where PhippenÂ’s commercial scale production of milkweed comes in.

“What we are trying to do is establish a uniform crop. We want to get a crop we can harvest like cotton,” Phippen explained. “What we’re doing is attempting to grow milkweed initially as a row crop and then determine how to harvest it.”

Tom Carper, Department of Economic OpportunityÂ’s West Central Regional manager, along with the local producer and the president and engineer from Natural Fibers Corp. will be present to witness the harvesting and will be available to answer questions, as will Phippen. The event is open free to the public.

For more information, contact Phippen at 309/298-1251 or Darcie Shinberger, University Relations, 309/298-1993.

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing