AROWRN Connects 2017 Conference

“The technology has never failed”. So said John Gilliland OBE, AROWRN Connects 2017 keynote speaker about short rotation woody crops technologies – which are well established in the European community. This technology is currently known as the AROWRN Technology in Canada. Its development and commercialization is being led by AROWRN (the Alberta Rural Organic Waste to Resources Network).

Gilliland, a recognized international leader from Ireland provided two keynotes.

The first, introduced the report he and his team made to the EU Parliament – “Development of a Land Management Strategy for N. Ireland Agriculture, Recognizing the Role of Woody Species, at its Core” ( This report contains recommendations on how to make agriculture practices in European communities sustainable based the effectiveness of short rotation woody crops (primarily willow) at removing pollutants from agricultural wastewater.

The second presentation highlighted the truly innovative practices that he has implemented on his farm in N. Ireland.

AROWRN Connects 2017 was a two-day gathering of industry practitioners and consultants, government and university researchers developing and commercializing this short rotation woody crop technology as an alternative to costly rural lagoon expansion and or release of effluent into western Canadian watercourses as a means to management effluent in rural communities.

The AROWRN Technology updates

Day one addressed the technology as a production system. In total, the speakers confirmed components are now well established and are not a limiting factor for the use of this technology in western Canada. Information on site establishment, woody crop species, planting, irrigation, production management techniques, harvesting and end-product uses was updated.

Day two featured research updates, a critical question discussion focused on identification of next steps in order to advance the technology, and an introduction to the WISDOM decision-making tool. This software is designed to help decision makers determine the cost of application of the technology to their waste-water application.

The Future

AROWRN Connects 2017 identified numerous actions that would advance this technology in western Canada. They include:

  1. Evaluation of the key sites within Alberta
  2. Detailed Economic Study
  3. Development of a new vision, key messaging and strategic priorities
  4. Inclusion of marketing and regulators in AROWRN membership
  5. Development of target audience list
  6. Road map for willow and poplar for environmental benefit
  7. Development of a training manual / tool kit

The Network

The technology has been researched and developed since 2007. In 2012, a core group of researchers, site managers, post-secondary researchers and industry formed the Alberta Rural Organic Waste to Resources Network to advance the technology. As indicated by Gilliland, the technology has never failed. Market factors and policy amendments are needed to advance this environmentally important technology.

Members of the network have created a working group, and a resource team in order to support the actions of the AROWRN organizing committee. Contact GPRC Research & Innovation for further information (780-539-2054;


Role of Woody Species – John Gilliland

Bio filtration: Current Results & Directions – John Gilliland

Biochar: Product Applications – Don Harfield

Optimization of Woody Biomass Handling and Drying – Joy Agnew

Biomass & Biosolids: Taking Willows to New Heights – SYLVIS Shawn Northwood 

Exploiting Natural Willow Biology to Increase End-Use Opportunities – Nicholas Brereton

Wisdom Model Presentation – Huy Nguyen