The Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research
For the past four years, a team of UMPI professors has received grant funding from the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research [EPSCoR] to study the sustainable development of the Aroostook River Watershed. The most populated region in northern Maine, it encompasses the communities of Presque Isle, Caribou, and Fort Fairfield.
EPSCoR is a program under the auspices of Maine's Office of Innovation. EPSCoR grants are awarded by the National Science Foundation to states that are typically not targeted for research grants. The funding UMPI has received is part of a larger grant led by the University of Maine in Orono and the University of Southern Maine.
Details of Year Four Research
Aroostook County has experienced a considerable decline in farm acreage since its peak in the 1940’s. While some of this land was converted to tree farms or other uses, much of it remains idle, in some stage of succession, or is mowed annually to maintain future land use potential. Many see this idle acreage as opportunity for current or future economic development, either through energy crops or increased production of food and feed crops in the future. During Year 4 of EPSCoR research, the team will continue to evaluate the feasibility and sustainability of producing grass on these lands as a feedstock for energy.
The UMPI team recently received $89,988 in EPSCoR funding to conduct this year's project, titled Assessing the Feasibility and Sustainability of Grass Biomass Production in Central Aroostook County through Research and Stakeholder Partnerships. UMPI's project is part of the University of Maine's Sustainability Solutions Initiative and is coordinated with ongoing grass biomass research by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service.
This year's team, led by Dr. Jason Johnston, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology, includes Dr. Kimberly Sebold, Associate Professor of History, and Dr. Chunzeng Wang, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Science. Also on the team is David Vail, the Adams Catlin Professor Economics, Emeritus, at Bowdoin College, and Andrew Plant with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.
This year's work involves everything from quantifying the land resource using GIS and satellite imagery and conducting economic analyses to opening a dialogue with stakeholders and assessing ecological impacts. The team also will conduct a historical account of agricultural land use practices and use this information to encourage local landowners to consider past, present, and potential future land uses. In addition, they will work with a local farmer to install a test plot to measure the potential yield gains realized from managed vs. unmanaged hay plots.