I love botany. I like to dabble in growing different types of plants and analyzing their growth patterns. I’m certainly no expert, but it always surprises me just how much I can learn from simply trying to grow a certain type of plant.

My knowledge of plants only stems from empirical data that I collect and analyze myself so I can, in no way, hold a candle to the knowledge of people who study and apply the science of botany for a living. For instance, there are always breakthroughs in the realm of using different plants for practical purposes that range anywhere from environmental benefits to renewable energy. It’s truly remarkable how much potential there is in plant science. I have no doubt that major breakthroughs in plant science will shape the near future for of all of humankind.

Now, that may be a little too grandiose, so let’s look at something that’s a little more down to earth. One of those breakthroughs (some wouldn’t call it a breakthrough so much as a very innovative use of a plant) is Arvegenix. Arvegenix uses pennycress to fill in the holes of a crop cycles and give farmers an extra crop to grow in between harvests.

“Arvegenix is the industry leader in the development of field pennycress (thlaspi arvense L.) as a significant new crop for the corn-soy growing regions of the world," their website claims. "Pennycress will grow over winter between the corn-soy rotation thereby providing growers with an additional revenue crop.”

There are benefits in terms of renewable fuel: “Pennycress oil has ideal properties for use in biodiesel and aviation fuel.” There are benefits in terms of feeding animals: “Pennycress meal has an excellent nutritional profile for ruminant livestock.” Also, environmental and social issues: “Pennycress is not a food crop and will not compete for food crop acres because it grows and matures over winter. It also provides ecological winter cover crop benefits by protecting the soil from erosion, preventing the loss of nitrogen to the water systems, and helping hold nutrients and residues to improve soil productivity.”

Here is a little bit of the science that defines the plant pennycress:

“Field pennycress is a winter annual belonging to the brassica (mustard) family. Pennycress seeds typically contain 36% oil content, roughly twice the level as a soybean. Pennycress has been examined and researched by the USDA and a number of academics over the years, from around the world. However, Arvegenix is the first entity to invest in an ambitious breeding and genomics program to domesticate the wild strains of pennycress into a viable commercial crop. The breeding and genomic research underway will generate commercial lines that emerge consistently, produce high yields, dry down consistently, and contain oil and meal properties following crushing that are ideal for commercial biofuels and animal feed.”

It’s not exactly a problem because farmers have dealt with the reality for centuries, but it’s still nice to not have a large lull in the off-season when it comes to growing crops. What I mean by this is that most farmers have to do all their growing in the spring and summer, and they have to make sure that the harvest they yield makes enough profit to last them for the next year. Of course, many farmers still turn a profit in the off-season by other means, but it's is nowhere near what they earn after they harvest their main crops. This cultivation of the pennycress plant allows farmers to grow it over the winter and sell it, not to eat, but to use for fuel and soil maintenance.

Even the way that they plant this crop stands out as efficient: they use aerial seeding to plant pennycress by dropping it from a plane.

“This 15 acre field in Missouri was aerially seeded on September 18. Emergence has been excellent due to timely planting and good rainfalls that followed.”

Any farmer willing to embrace Arvegenix is sure to greatly benefit from it. All it takes is a bit of innovation and creative thinking to come up with an idea like this.