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New professor of perennial cropping systems

Uffe Jørgensen is now employed as professor of perennial cropping systems at the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.

2021.09.01 | Camilla Brodam

[Translate to English:] Foto: Professor Uffe Jørgensen - Fotograf: Maria Randima

Aarhus University has chosen to employ senior researcher and center manager for CBIO - Aarhus University's Center for Circular Bioeconomy - Uffe Jørgensen as professor of perennial cropping systems at the Department of Agroecology with effect from 15 September 2021.

The new professor started his career as a horticulturist at Jyndevad experimental station in 1987, where plants' physiological response to drought was of great interest. But after a visit to Jens Bonderup Kjeldsen at Hornum experimental station in North Jutland, he became interested in elephant grass and the potential for perennial crops for bioenergy.

"The focus was on the potential of elephant grass as bioenergy, but I actually saw just as much potential in it as an environmental tool that would then be able to solve our challenges with the at the time new aquatic environment plans 1, 2 and 3," says Uffe Jørgensen.

The perennial crops’ Gyro Gearloose

Uffe Jørgensen's interest in the possibilities of the perennial crops started when he first visited Hornum experimental station. During the years at Jyndevad experimental station, he learned the experimental craftsmanship in the field, experience he still uses today and is happy to have learned. It was also here he took his first steps within bioenergy research. However, it was not only the bioenergy that fascinated him, with the perennial crops a world of different niche products emerged.

“I have always searched for markets for the new products based on perennial crops, so that we can solve environmental and climate challenges. If we can create markets for these products, then we can start growing more perennial crops than we do now,” explains Uffe Jørgensen.

And the ideas have been many, ranging from lightweight plywood boards and textiles to thatched pipes made from elephant grass. In fact, Uffe Jørgensen and Jens Bonderup Kjeldsen succeeded in entering into a collaboration with the Danish roofers, which means that thatched houses today are often covered with elephant grass rather than roof pipes.

“The idea has even been exported to Japan, where elephant grass originates, but where it is not grown as an agricultural crop. We are very proud of that, because in the past, roof pipes were often imported first from Eastern Europe and later from China, as we could not produce enough in Denmark, and that does not really make sense as a sustainable natural product. Now, they use elephant grass grown in Denmark instead,” says Uffe Jørgensen. 

And the ideas do not stop here. In Uffe Jørgensen's office in Foulum, there are small samples of various niche products, and even more ideas for new products.

From Jyndevad to Foulum

After five years in Jyndevad, Uffe Jørgensen came to Foulum, where he has had his daily work ever since. And the perennial cropping systems have been part of his area of ​​research all these years, except for a period in which he coordinated the government service. An area he found very interesting, but in the end, it was still the perennial crops that pulled the longest straw. 

“My research has had the same direction ever since the elephant grass, where the perennial crops have been my focus. And it will continue to do so. I want to help develop the cultivation and efficiency of perennial production systems, because in my opinion this is an area that has been downgraded. There has been a great focus on annual cropping systems, which occupy 80% of the area in Denmark, while only 20% are perennial crops. I want to help challenge those figures, because the perennial crops have a much smaller impact on the environment and climate when you look at nutrient loss, pesticide consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions,” says Uffe Jørgensen. 

Started biorefining in Denmark

It is not that the new professor believes that annual crop systems should give way completely to the perennials, but in relation to being able to meet the objectives and requirements set by, among others, the EU Water Framework Directive and the Danish Climate Act on sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, a larger production of perennial crops just makes better sense.

“It is smart, because with perennial cropping systems, we can help maintain sustainable agricultural production in Denmark, and maintain a large production of agricultural products. It can be some of the same agricultural products that we produce now, but it can also be a number of new ones that we can produce from these new crops,” explains Uffe Jørgensen, who has been involved in developing green biorefining, which can ensure a supply brand new products.

The biorefineries have helped to introduce the perennial crops as other than feed for ruminants. The idea is, among other things, to produce protein that can be utilized by monogastric animals and also humans.

“Biorefining can create a wide range of new products. And they can help replace some of the oil-based products. Just as it can be used as bioenergy and thus supplement the other renewable energy sources. And finally you can produce different materials ranging from plastic to textiles,” says Uffe Jørgensen.

Perennial cereal crops will be the food of the future

With the new title, Uffe Jørgensen will continue his work with the perennial crops, and preferably with a focus on also being able to grow some of the traditional agricultural crops as perennial crops. Here he points to, among other things, cereal crops such as perennial rye and kernza.

“It would really be a turning point if we could change grain production and make it perennial. So far, the yields are too low, but that's something we can work on. It definitely is a future perspective that I want to focus on,” says Uffe Jørgensen. 

He is also confident about the future.

“The future looks fantastic, we probably have some huge challenges ahead of us, but we also have some really good suggestions for solutions. So, we just need to crack on and get more resources. We are facing some major changes and they need to be thoroughly analyzed before they are put into practice. There is a huge potential and we can see the solutions, but there is a lot of details and techniques that needs to be developed before we can implement in full scale. So, now it's just a matter of getting started,” concludes Uffe Jørgensen, who will give his inaugural lecture on 22 September 2021 in the Department of Agroecology's department in Foulum, Denmark.

Read more and register here. 

Contact
Professor Uffe Jørgensen, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Tel .: +45 21337831 or email: uffe.jorgensen@agro.au.dk 

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