Construction of one of the country’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants will begin this fall in the heart of Iowa. The new facility, which will be located adjacent to Lincolnway Energy’s existing corn starch ethanol plant in Nevada, Iowa, will be capable of producing 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, using technologies developed by DuPont Industrial Biosciences. This will require approximately 350,000 tons of biomass annually, mostly in the form of corn stover.
If there was ever a good year for drought-tolerant corn research, this year was it. In July, more of the United States suffered moderate or severe drought than at any other time in the 12-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor. The effects were certainly felt across the Corn Belt, especially in Indiana, which had its driest year since 1988. However, seed developers are working on hybrids to help growers deal with these conditions.
Corn hybrids that could yield better with the same amount of nitrogen or grow with less nitrogen are still several years away from commercialization. But they are progressing along the research pipeline at breeding companies, including Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta.
“Hey, let’s be careful out there.” It’s a phrase that fans of the 80s hit TV program Hill Street Blues remember. With ever-increasing pressure to protect their valuable crops and get the most from every acre, it’s also a phrase that rings true with farmers.
After considering public comment and all available studies, EPA has denied the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) petition to revoke all tolerances and cancel all registrations of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D), a phenoxy herbicide and plant growth regulator that has been used in the U.S. since the 1940s. It is currently found in approximately 600 products registered for agricultural, residential, industrial and aquatic uses. The NRDC had filed the petition in November 2008.
Atrazine is the second most commonly applied herbicide in the U.S., and according to agronomist David Bridges, there are no comparable replacements.
Bridges, president of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, presented findings from a study he conducted at the recent annual meeting of the Southern Weed Science Society. He pointed to atrazine’s weed control, application flexibility, crop tolerance and tillage compatibility as reasons for the conclusions in his study.
The past year was significant for the ethanol industry. EPA approved E15 (15% ethanol blended gasoline) for model year 2001 and newer vehicles. And the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit (VEETC) of $0.45/gal. expired. Ethanol production is expected to increase with E15 entering the market. The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has reported that it is working to finalize federal requirements to certify E15 blends. A couple of states are ready to go with E15 as soon as the federal requirements are completed.
The biomass industry, and consequently the market for handling equipment, is growing, but just how much will depend a lot on government policy. While federal legislators recently retained funding for energy title programs in the 2012 appropriations “minibus,” there could be cuts to the funding allocated for energy programs in the next farm bill.
As the markets for biomass grow, so does the development of biomass-handling equipment. Continued testing on corncobs and dedicated energy crops has allowed manufacturers to tweak the equipment to make handling more efficient. Here’s a quick update.
Vermeer Corporation, Pella, Iowa, has sold the 605 Super M Cornstalk Special Baler for five years. Jay Van Roekel, Vermeer, says the baler has been working well in all residue crops.
If you are not increasing corn plant populations every year, you may not be reaping full yield benefits, says Roger Elmore, extension corn specialist, Iowa State University. Elmore has found that a population of about 35,000 plants/acre is optimal for yield in tests he conducted throughout Iowa.
Crops for producing biomass and advanced bale-handling equipment are expected to be major technologies in the future of agriculture. Principal scientist at ICM, Jeremy Javers, says biomass production will someday become similar to row-crop production. Improvements have been made in the yield of energy crops and in harvesting equipment.