|Could the Mississippi Delta Become the Heart of Americaís Bamboo Belt?
Iíll let you in on a small not-so secret: Iíve loved bamboo since I was a little kid. Fascinated with it ever since National Geographic ran a long story on complete with illustrations of all the different types, and have always had a strong visceral response to it. And whatís not to like about it? Itís amazingly strong, has myriad uses and is downright beautiful. So when I ran across an article in Popular Mechanics on how the Mississippi Delta could be transformed into the United Statesí prime bamboo growing region I was certainly intrigued:Moso Bamboo is a Prime Building MaterialThe idea is to cultivate the Moso variety of bamboo, which is renowned for its tensile strength (yes, itís as strong as steel) and load-bearing capacity (three times that of regular wood), so that the US doesnít have to import bamboo building materials all the way from China.
The problem is that to grow a lot of Moso quickly from seedlings or cuttings isnít particularly practical: This variety only flowers every 60-100 years, and cuttings donít have a high enough survival rate to be commercially profitable. So the answer is cloning them. Thatís what Jackie Heinrcher of Boo-Shoot Gardens wants to do:
Heinricher envisions bamboo forests reviving the Deltaís agricultural economy, which once relied on cotton crops but has generally fallen on hard times. Dr. Brian Baldwin, associate professor of plant and soil sciences at Mississippi State University, says mild, wet winters have helped bamboo species closely related to Moso do "exceedingly well here." He considers the region viable for large-scale production. Ted Rose, principal of the consulting firm Rose Carbon, predicts economic opportunities for farmers in the emerging marketplace of cap-and-trade commerce. Bamboo agriculture can generate "carbon reduction" credits under current cap-and-trade rules, Rose says, so farmers producing Moso in the Delta could potentially sell their credits on the open market. Citing examples of Moso farms in Nicaragua already taking advantage of these transactions, Rose says, "Itís just another revenue stream for farmers."
Financing, Climate Change Potential HurdlesIf thereís a potential kink in all this itís financing: Considering that it takes 3-4 years from the time a grove is planted until it can first be harvested, few people are willing to jump in and be bamboo entrepreneurs.
Another one wouldnít effect cultivation for a number of years, but as new research shows that large areas of the Delta are likely to become submerged by rising sea levels and declining sediment deposits from the Mississippi, prospective bamboo growers would be wise to choose the location for their groves carefully.
By Matthew McDermott
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