I'll admit as a city dweller I'm a 'green grass' kind of guy. Just like no farmer wants to see a weed popping above the canopy of a soybean field, I abhor the bright yellow flowers appearing in my lawn. And I'm pretty tough on them using properly applied herbicide technologies (usually be a custom applicator - okay, a lawn service) to take care of the weed.
I may have to rethink my feelings about dandelions. The folks at Mitas, the Czech-based tire company, which also makes tires in Charles City, Iowa - announced it is planning to test a tire next year that uses rubber extracted from a dandelion. To be specific it is Taraxacum koksaghyz - a Kazakh dandelion. While the name is the same as that troublesome weed that plagues my Minnesota yard, it's definitely only a distant cousin. Yet it may bring some new respect for dandelions too.
The plant was discovered in Kazakhstan back in 1932 according to Wikipedia and is native to that region. It's known for its ability to produce rubber. In fact the term koksaghyz is derived from native Kazakh to be kok - which means plant, and saghyz which means rubber, or gum. Again, I'm relying on Wikipedia here, so there may be some fine-tuning of that information.
However, the plant is a raw-product producer of a form of rubber that may have more uses. Mitas announced it will test a tire that will use material from the flower along with rubber tree latex in a compound for agricultural tires. According to the press release, the goal is to have the first prototype of the dandelion tire during 2015.
Why dandelion? According to a media release announcing the prototype, Andrew Mabin, Mitas' sales and marketing director says: "We are examining different ways to use natural and renewable materials to produce our tires. Our research and development department is actively seeking new ways to improve our manufacturing process which includes researching new raw materials or substitutes."
The company is one of several tire manufacturers exploring the use of Kazakh dandelion for its rubber, he adds.
Mitas is involved with Drive4EU which aims to cultivate the dandelion to "enable the EU to become less dependent on the import of natural rubber…" according to a website dedicated to the program. As a participant, Mitas is currently involved in researching use of the dandelion.
Of course, this time of year talk of turning crops into new uses always brings up a memory that scene in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George Bailey's friend discusses building a plant to turn soybeans into plastic - so-so video link here to spark your memory.
Now it took some time, but U.S. manufacturers are using soy-based oil as part of the process to make plastic and rubber products. Whether you're talking materials in Ford vehicles or rubber in farm tires (Bridgestone is working with soy-based materials for tires)
The ag industry is always looking for ways to enhance markets for products we raise. Ethanol has been a boon for corn (and no, it doesn't raise food prices). Biodiesel will be good for soy oil use (remember the price of soybeans right now is based on meal, and the oil was often an afterthought - that could change). If the tire industry can cultivate a dandelion and manage natural rubber use, that's interesting too.
As we look toward 2015, it appears we'll see a lot of technology put to use in new ways. We're the site to keep up with that, so subscribe to our e-newsletter and check out the site often for the latest in farm technology. And you can join a conversation about technology by visiting our forum at FarmIndustryNews.com/forum.