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Corn+Soybean Digest

Big On Biodiesel

While most farmers are dabbling in a 2% blend of biodiesel, at least two farmers from Iowa have taken biodiesel usage to a new level. David Oberbroeckling and Roger Halliday use anywhere from a 20% to 100% blend on their farms.

In September of 2001, Oberbroeckling, who farms in Davenport, IA, started using a 20% blend after several months of requesting that his distributor provide soy diesel (commonly referred to as B20). He wanted the advantages that straight petroleum diesel simply can't offer.

According to the National Biodiesel Board (NBB):

  • Biodiesel reduces particulate matter by 47% and cuts carcinogens by 80-90%.

  • Biodiesel use results in a 78% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Biodiesel has superior lubricity and the highest btu content of any alternative fuel.

  • Biodiesel contains no sulfur.

A cleaner smell and fewer emissions make working around the farm easier, too. “If I need to, I can run the tractor inside the shop for a short amount of time and the smoke doesn't bother me,” says Oberbroeckling. “You don't get the harsh taste in your throat or the watery eyes as you would with straight petroleum diesel.”

Halliday, who grows 250 acres of corn and soybeans near Webster City, IA, says you can tell almost immediately that biodiesel exhaust is cleaner. “It smells like French fries,” he says.

In both Missouri and Iowa, about half of soybean farmers use B2 biodiesel in their operations. The use of a B20 and higher blend is not as common.

Many manufacturers are backing the importance of using biodiesel. According to the NBB, most major engine companies officially claim blends of up to B20 will not void their parts and workmanship warranties. However, they also have specified that biodiesel must meet certain standards. The NBB reports you should always ensure that only fuel meeting the biodiesel specification (D 6751) is used.

While many farmers have shied away from using biodiesel in higher percentages, Halliday has been using 100% biodiesel for three years in his 1976 Case 1370, 1982 JD 4440 and for the first time last fall in a 1979 JD 7720 combine.

“I just thought I would try 100% and see how it worked,” he says. “So far, I've not had a problem or needed to make any modifications to the motors.”

Both farmers agree that even though it costs a little more — roughly 2-3¢ higher per percentage point — the idea that money is not going to foreign countries and that it's a great renewable source is reason enough to use it.

“I heard that if you let it sit over winter it will create water. But in the four years I've been using it I've never found a drop in the water separator filter on my Case 2388 combine, which sits for about eight months out of the year,” says Oberbroeckling. “We use B20 in our semi and diesel tractors year-round, hauling grain and moving snow with no problem. Someday, I' like to use 100% when there's enough to go around,” Oberbroeckling adds.

Big picture, even the smallest blend would greatly improve the soybean market. If every diesel engine in the U.S. used only 2% biodiesel, it's estimated that approximately 1 billion gallons of biodiesel would be used annually, says Darryl Brinkmann, a farmer using B11 from Carlyle, IL, and chairman of the NBB.

Halliday sees the use of biodiesel as a great opportunity for the economy. “People shouldn't be afraid of using a high blend. It doesn't get any stronger than what I've been using and I think its great,” he says.

Currently, more than 1,400 petroleum distributors and 400 retail filling stations offer various biodiesel blends to the public. According to a 2001 study by USDA, an average annual increase of 200 million gallons of soy-based biodiesel would boost total crop cash receipts by $5.2 billion cumulatively by 2010. The price for a bushel of soybeans would increase by an average of 17¢ annually during the 10-year period.

More than 500 fleet operations in the U.S., including many school districts, are currently using straight soy diesel, according to the NBB. Still, the biggest obstacle for using more biodiesel rests with farmers.

“We are the ones who should be using it because it's our product,” says Oberbroeckling. “It's the right thing to do for our country and the environment.”

For more information about biodiesel, visit

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