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Acres of corn stover soon to become cellulosic ethanol

The October edition of Farm Industry News will feature an article with insights from custom harvesters and corn growers who have been working with DuPont Industrial Biosciences and POET-DSM over the last few years to harvest corn stover for the production of cellulosic ethanol. With these biorefineries coming online in Iowa this fall, there are some good market opportunities ahead for Iowa corn growers. Here are a few highlights from the upcoming article.

Plunkett Farms, Maxwell, Iowa

“Custom harvesting has enabled me to continue farming,” says Brad Plunkett, Plunkett Farms, Maxwell, Iowa, who established a custom harvesting business two years ago as a result of the new DuPont biorefinery. Diversifying has enabled Plunkett, who has been farming for 25 years, to bring his son into the farming business. Over the last two years, Plunkett has harvested stover on 35 farms participating in the DuPont project. His crew will harvest approximately 7,500 acres this fall. Supplying stover for the cellulosic ethanol market is a great opportunity for corn growers, custom harvesters, truckers and equipment dealers to name a few, Plunkett says.

Tim Fevold, accredited farm manager, Hertz Farm Management, Nevada, Iowa, oversees the management of approximately 70 farms in north central Iowa, a dozen of which have been involved in the DuPont project. “I would encourage anyone who has the right soils, topography and fertility to take a look at harvesting stover,” Fevold says. Never more than 50 percent of the residue is taken off these fields which have an average yield of 175 bushels per acre and up.

POET-DSM commissioned a soil research study, which was conducted by Douglas Karlen, USDA Agricultural Research Service; Stuart Birrell, Iowa State University BioSystems and Agricultural Engineering Department; and Adam Wirt, POET-DSM. Over the last five years, they studied soil quality under different biomass harvest scenarios at the site. Their data have been aggregated with 500+ years of additional soil data from four separate sites. Stover harvest can be sustainable on fields with slopes of less than three percent with consistent grain yields of at least 175 bushels per acre, they found. Nitrogen and phosphorus applications should not need to change when harvesting stover at one ton per acre, but the researchers did recommend that farmers monitor potassium.The upcoming article will also address equipment being used to harvest stover sustainably.

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