Balers for corn stover collection are adding a new revenue stream for hay-harvesting machinery manufacturers and custom baler businesses, says Eric Woodford, Woodford Equipment manager/owner, Emmetsburg, Iowa. Woodford sells Vermeer Corporation's 605 Super M Cornstalk Special Baler that many of his customers rely on to provide corn stover biomass to a nearby Poet Project Liberty cellulosic ethanol production plant in northwestern Iowa.

For 2012, Project Liberty has been contracting with area farmers to harvest corn stover bales on approximately 80,000 to 85,000 acres, says Adam Wirt, Poet biomass logistics director. “So far, we’ve been doing research on bale storage, handling, processing and pilot-plant cellulosic ethanol production,” he says. “We plan to focus on collecting corn stover from a 35-mile radius around Emmetsburg and will work with about 300,000 acres when we go full scale.”

Based on current lab and pilot data, Wirt says Poet believes that Project Liberty is currently positioned to reap significant economic rewards in the near future. “We’ve been working at this for over 10 years,” he says. “We’re at a point now where we believe we can do this economically.”

Corn-on-corn advantage

In the meantime, corn stover balers have been selling well throughout the Corn Belt, even in places where no cellulosic ethanol production facility is present, because the balers offer a benefit for crop producers too, says Phil Chrisman, Vermeer baler product manager. “The Super M works particularly well for corn-on-corn situations or where too much corn residue interferes with suitable growing conditions for the next crop,” he says.

The 2013 model of the Super M features an Inline Ramp option. “It’s an attachment to the baler that turns the bale 90 degrees in orientation, so that the bale mover can go down the rows in the same direction that the baler went,” Chrisman says. “It increases bale pickup productivity as much as 35 to 40% by having bales aligned in that way. It can travel faster and smoother in the field, because we're going down the rows instead of across them.”

Extra-income opportunity

Corn growers who want extra income can provide needed feed and bedding to livestock farmers and still leave behind adequate crop residue levels to comply with a conservation plan, Chrisman adds. “With the Super M, the operator can control how close they set the pickup teeth to the ground and how much crop residue they decide to leave for soil conservation purposes,” he says. “With some quick adjustments, they can easily leave 30% crop residue or more.”