Among other new biomass technology is the Glenvar Bale Direct System (BDS), manufactured by Tuthill Drive Systems, Brookston, IN. The system can be used with all leading brands of combines and large square balers.

 

Corncob economics

Corncobs could provide a future energy source, but a recent Purdue University study indicates that most farmers would need to receive about $100/dry ton from ethanol producers to add a cob-collection operation during harvest.

Wallace Tyner and graduate student Matthew Erickson at Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics examined the cost of cob-harvest equipment, the amount of time harvest was slowed by adding a cob-collection operation, the volume of cobs that could be collected per acre, and other factors.

In addition to the $100/ton price, the ag economists determined that farmers would be most likely to collect cobs if they made up at least 20% of the corn stover and if rental charges for cob-collection wagons were half the standard $28,000 seasonal rate.

The ag economists surveyed farmers who supplied cobs to a Minnesota ethanol company in 2009. This information was used to create a cob-harvesting operation for Purdue’s B-21 PC-LP Farm Plan Model, a computer program that determines the return on a specific farm operation from production and other data.

Anonymous data from 55 farms represented at Purdue’s 2009 Top Farmer Crop Workshop were used as the base for the computer simulation. These farms harvested a combined 100,264 acres of corn without cob collection in 2008. The computer program provided the farms the choice between corn harvest with and without cob collection and projected that none of the farms would collect cobs if wagon rental was $28,000 and cobs brought $40/ton. If farmers received $100/ton, however, B-21 projected 22 of the 55 farms would collect cobs.

The research suggested wagon rental rates often were the make-or-break factor in harvesting cobs. The typical $28,000 lease covers the harvest period, regardless how many acres are involved. “If rental was reduced to $14,000, cob harvest became much more attractive,” Erickson says.

The Purdue study, funded by the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, also indicated:

Farms with 2,000 or more corn acres were better able to offset cob-collection costs than smaller farms because of reduced unit costs.

If paid $100/ton for cobs, farmers likely would collect 96% more cobs under the most favorable operating conditions and costs than the least favorable operating conditions and costs.

Break-even prices for cobs differ significantly from farm to farm, depending on corn yield, farm size and production practices.

Government subsidies might be necessary to encourage more farmers to collect cobs if the public decides cellulosic biofuels are an important energy alternative.

The study findings are published in The Economics of Harvesting Corn Cobs for Energy, available for free download at the Purdue University Web site.

Vermeer’s Van Roekel points out that because the corncob and corn residue market is still developing, the price of equipment, efficiency of harvest and the value of a ton of biomass will change yearly. The corn ethanol industry has made significant technological improvements over the last five years, he says, adding, “OEMs, renewable energy facilities, universities and farms are all developing better ways to utilize biomass sustainably.”