Come fall, you’ve put in almost a year’s worth of toil and sweat to reap a plentiful harvest. When that time comes, the next thing on your (or any farmer’s) mind is the crop residue left behind.
As efficiency in farming techniques have increased, production and stalk size have as well. Such a plentiful result leaves similarly plentiful stover. Managing stover and maintaining yields in subsequent harvests is becoming more and more challenging. Farmer has to manage their own residue, and it is a tedious and inefficient process presently. Too much stover can limit seed choices, require more tillage, limit planting populations, affect plant emergence, require increased spraying, and most importantly, hinder grain yield.
There is, however, another way to channel the byproducts of your harvest, which can not only benefit you financially but, can also contribute to the health of your fields, livestock, and subsequent harvests.
Those seemingly lifeless leaves and stalks, your stover, left languishing in your field after the previous harvest could become quite valuable as processes of energy conversion, feedstock, and a great many other applications continue to improve.
As innovations to handling, baling, and converting stover become more and more viable, it’s important for farmers to stay on the cutting edge of these developments for the future.
But you may have heard such practices, while allegedly profitable, can harm soil and cause issues to crop yields.
Years ago that may have been the case. Lighter corn yields meant less stover and less likelihood for problems. Soil damage and erosion are a constant concern. But we have learned that in many cases, the benefits of pulling some of the stover from the field are far from detrimental.
The science has improved significantly. It’s been shown that it is beneficial to remove some of the stover from the field. Not to mention in an agricultural climate where global surpluses have left many crops (particularly corn) at prices well below that of production, finding another means of income is vital.
But what are we really talking about? It’s simple, really. Plant and harvest as you always would. The same way you, and your father, and grandfather before him did. Following the harvest, however, you need only collect and densely bale the remaining stover. And if that sounds daunting, that’s where AGCO’s Biomass Solutions team can help you get it done.
Then of course comes the question – “What exactly do you do with it?” There are a number of companies that can utilize and add value to your stover. One such company that removes and bales densely packed stover is Pellet Technology USA (PTUSA). They convert the baled stover into feed pellets for your livestock, high in fiber, protein, energy and other nutrients essential to a healthy diet. These pellets provide a necessary source of food, with a key ingredient from the residue residing in your fields.
These feed pellets provide options for overwintering beef cowherd and/or ration inclusion in starter, grower and finishing rations.
Stover can also be converted to energy pellets. These “power pellets” are then sent to biorefineries for conversion into biofuels, particularly ethanol. There is currently a growing demand for such pelleted residue to produce these fuels, as the market for alternative fuel sources continues to grow.
When weighed against all factors, residue management will become a necessary step farms must take to remain profitable and healthy in today’s precarious agricultural climate.
And as innovations and processes for stover removal, baling, and conversion continue, more and more companies will join this movement to give farmers the necessary incentives to consider selling their ag residue.
The stover is there. Now we must develop the infrastructure to catch up.
We mentioned PTUSA above as one of the industry leaders in stover removal, dense baling, and pelleting. Next time we’ll be venturing more into what is done, the marketplace, and how farmers will greatly benefit from the services they provide.
Stay tuned for that post in the coming weeks.
Still in its early stages in North America, the harvesting and processing industry for cellulosic ethanol now has something to show for years of research and planning in the form of three new cellulosic ethanol plants.
Bill Levy, chief executive officer of PacificAg, believes the North American biomass industry is poised for growth. “Over the next decade or so, it will become a major market,” he says.
Two of the three new cellulosic plants are in Iowa—one operated by DuPont in Nevada; the other in Emmetsburg is run by South Dakota-based ethanol producer POET/DSM—and both process corn stover. The other facility—located in Hugoton, Kan., and run by Abengoa Bioenergy Biomass—uses some wheat straw in addition to corn and milo stover, all of which is supplied exclusively by PacificAg.
For every 180 bushels of grain, the average producer will have about 4.3 tons of stover. To maintain sufficient organic matter in the soil and to prevent erosion, the USDA advises leaving an average of 2.3 tons per acre on the ground. Studies have shown that leaving too much residue can increase the likelihood of disease the following spring, make planting more difficult and use up nitrogen.
“The biggest benefit we bring growers is an alternative method for managing high residue,” says Denny Penland, business development manager for DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol. “And it also produces a platform for producing next year’s crop of corn.”
In Canada, there are currently no biomass plants online or in the works, but Charles Lalonde, a project manager with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says he expects that’s going to change in the next few years. He says there will soon be demand for corn stover and wheat straw inside Canadian borders.
“With corn stover, we’re trying to develop a market for it in bioprocessing,” Lalonde explains. He anticipates that facility will focus on using cellulosic material to produce sugars for use in various biochemical productions.
U.S. plants making ethanol from grains, mainly corn, are currently at capacity, producing 12 billion to 13 billion gallons annually. “Right now, the industry is waiting for the cellulosic side of these projects to get up and running,” Levy says. By comparison, it’s estimated that the new plants will be able to produce around 75 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year.
Plans for seven new cellulosic ethanol plants have been announced by the USDA, three of which will use agricultural waste, while the others will use resources like wood chips, wood waste and municipal solid waste.
And while the bulk of the U.S. market now is corn stover, Glenn Farris, AGCO’s manager of segment strategy for biomass/industrials, expects a market for dedicated energy crops to emerge, such as Miscanthus and switchgrass.
Farris says he believes that by 2030 more producers will see 300 bushels of corn per acre. That means 8 to 10 tons of stover per acre on the ground within the next 15 years.
Says Levy, “I think we’re going to see a revolution in the biomass market in the years to come. As the world turns to renewable energy, agriculture is going to be a direct benefactor.”
PacificAg operates the largest agricultural residue and forage harvesting business in the U.S., and also maintains the country’s largest fleet of biomass harvesting equipment. That equipment includes one of the largest collections of Hesston large square balers in North America.
“The Hesston baler has been a staple of our program for 16 years,” says PacificAg CEO Bill Levy. That’s in large part due to comparisons with other brands that found the Hesston large square baler’s performance to be superior. “It runs more consistently with fewer breakdowns than any other large square baler,” he adds.
Charles Lalonde, with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, agrees. “AGCO has upgraded the baler to improve efficiency and dramatically reduce downtime,” he says. “You don’t have to stop to replace parts. It runs continuously.”
Another critical upgrade, says Lalonde: “Four years ago, the baler could handle bales weighing 800 to 900 pounds; today, we have balers handling 1,300 pounds. The Hesston 2270XD large square baler … achieves the greatest amount of density per cubic foot.”
That density, says Glenn Farris, AGCO’s manager of segment strategy for biomass/industrials, has its definite advantages, resulting in lower transportation costs and fewer bales being shipped, no matter the material being handled.
“What has been important has been AGCO’s understanding of this emerging market,” Levy says of the biomass industry. ”They’re much more accessible than other manufacturers and offer more attention to customer service.”
In an attempt to harness the potential of the growing biomass industry, AGCO launched its first marketing group specific to this area of agriculture. The biomass marketing group is led by its marketing manager, Glenn Farris, and his business equipment and development specialist, Ken Wagenbach.
Ken leads biomass harvesting equipment design improvements and helps partners set up, maintain and operate equipment for optimum productivity, efficiency and reliability.
Q&A with Ken:
What are some of the advantages of biomass energy production?
Biomass energy is renewable and environmentally sustainable; it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and our carbon footprint at the same time. In biomass energy production, the agriculture sector has a way to reduce production cost while increasing yields and revenues.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about biomass since joining the AGCO Biomass Solutions team?
Biomass hits at all the core competencies of AGCO products. Properly managing crops/land and soil/water, be it purpose grown or crop residue, and renewable energy political policies have equal impact on the economy of the producer.
What is some good advice for a farmer who is interested in incorporating biomass into his or her operation?
Regardless of one’s current opinion on government policies on renewable fuels, meeting the world demand for food and fiber in 2020 and beyond will require higher yields. With higher yields and the genetics needed to get there, crop residue in the future will require very heavy tillage, new equipment design and/or removal of it entirely. As farmers/producers, we WILL need the cellulosic outlet that biomass provides.
Have a question for Ken? Email him your question here: AGCO_Biomass_Solutions@AGCOCorp.com.
For additional information on AGCO Biomass Solutions, please visit: http://bit.ly/AGCOBiomass.
Biomass solutions are making news in Scotland as the Balmenach Distillery in Speyside receives funding from the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB). The £5M in funding from the GIB is part of a larger project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cut fuel costs from distilleries in the Scottish Highlands. The Balmenach Distillery in Speyside will use the £1M of funds allocated to their improvements to replace the distillery’s current oil-fired boiler with a biomass boiler. Two other distilleries, Tomatin Distillery near Inverness and Aberfeldy Distillery in Perthshire, have already benefited from the £5M in funding announced last month from the GIB.
Whisky is one of Scotland’s best-known manufactured products. The Scotch Whisky Association is striving to reduce energy costs as part of its goals for going green.The Balmenach Distillery is the producer of Caorunn Gin, known as a super-premium small batch Scottish Gin infused with handpicked botanicals inspired by the Celtic tradition. As one of the oldest distilleries in Speyside, the Balmenach Distillery can trace back its roots to 1824. While closing its doors in 1993, the Inver Distillers Group — owned by ThaiBev, a leading Asian drinks business — bought the distillery in 1998 to reopen it for business.
The installation of the new biomass boiler at the Balmenach Distillery will reduce energy costs to a third of current energy costs as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5,000 tons a year. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at the Balmenach distillery is the equivalent of taking over 2,200 cars off the road. The new biomass boiler will allow for cost-effective renewable energy and will produce steam necessary for the whisky production process.
The installment of biomass boiler systems at the Tomatin Distillery and Aberfeldy Distillery has already seen an 80% reduction in greenhouse emissions and fuel costs.
Rob Cormie, group operations director of the GIB, said, “…Projects like this provide a sustainable supply of renewable energy; save distilleries money and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. With limited capital investment, distilleries can save money from day one while also helping to meet the industry’s ambitious green targets.”
Read more about AGCO Biomass Solutions by visiting: http://bit.ly/AGCOBiomass.