University News

Commercial Milkweed Crop Harvested Thursday

September 11, 2006

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MACOMB, IL – The second annual milkweed harvest day at Western Illinois University will begin at 2 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14 at the Alternative Crops Field Lab on Ember Road, just north of the WIU campus in Macomb.

According to Win Phippen, WIU agriculture professor, the inaugural harvest in September 2005 focused on harvesting techniques, comparing a bean picker with an ear corn picker set up for
30-inch rows. Phippen said the results indicated, although not as efficient in picking the pods, the ear corn picker provided a much cleaner sample requiring significantly less post harvest cleaning of the pods prior to drying.

“To help address the low picking efficiency of the ear corn picker, we have re-designed the harvesting head by reducing the distance between gathering chains to 15 inches and accelerating the speed in which plants are pulled through the machine,” he explained. “This will dramatically help in retrieving pods from the field, minimizing manual labor of sorting dirty harvested pods, and dealing with troublesome weed pressure in the field.”

To date, research plots have indicated yields as high as 10,000 pounds of green pods per acre. However, under large-scale field production with weed pressures, Phippen said he expects 5,000 pounds of green pods per acre, which translates into approximately 1,500 pounds of dried pods after several weeks of drying. After processing, there will be approximately 400 pounds of floss and 400 pounds of seed.

“At the current market value of $10 per pound for the floss and $55 per pound for seed, a revenue of $26,000 is expected; however, with the limited markets for milkweed products, the majority of the material generated by this field will be used for developing potential new markets and for product development,” Phippen said. “Any revenue generated by this field will return to help support the continued research of alternative crops for Western Illinois producers.”

As part of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s “Opportunity Returns” economic development plan, Western’s alternative crops research program, led by 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 five years creating a “domesticated” milkweed plant as an alternative crop for Illinois producers.

The 2006 harvest day 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