North Central SARE From the Field Profile
Missouri Producer Envisions Future Fiber Fuel Jobs
In Kingsville, MO, a perennial and native seed crop producer has been developing and processing energy crops and agricultural residues into biomass engineered fiber fuel, and now he and other producers in MO could help determine the future of cellulosic-based biofuels.
As a producer, Steve Flick grows several hundred thousand pounds of seed in western Missouri. In addition, he is Chairman of the Board of Show Me Energy Cooperative, where his cellulosic biomass facility owned by 600 farmers is trying to establish an innovative, profitable, leading model for production of biomass-based fuels.
In 2007, Flick was curious about growing Miscanthus/elephant grass in the Midwest. He submitted a proposal to the NCR-SARE Farmer Rancher Grant Program and was awarded $5,995 to learn more about planting and growing Miscanthus as a bioenergy crop in MO.
“Interest in developing energy from biomass continues to grow. Giant Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) is a vigorous perennial grass that can grow as tall as 14 feet,” said Flick. “It has tremendous potential for bioenergy because it recycles nutrients, has a significant yield, has little or no need for chemical weed control or fertilizer, and will produce for many years.”
Flick’s original plan was to use a modified potato planter to plant the rhizomes, but decided it would be easier to work with a modified Bermudagrass Sprigger to plant the rhizomes. He thought this would allow them to take the planting to a larger level, but it caused problems because the rhizomes were not uniform.
“It took us about a day to figure all the metrics out- I wouldn’t do it again with the same equipment- the rhizomes were too clean and the machine wanted to plant way too fast,” explained Flick. “For the eight-acre field, it took four hours of planting and 40 hours of engineering for it to work right. Smaller and simpler methods seemed to work better. Not all of the rhizomes are uniform.”
He said that planting the Miscanthus rhizomes was labor intensive, and suspects farmers will adopt small fields (less than five acres) to harvest. He thinks Miscanthus is most likely to be of interest to young, beginning farmers, displaced tobacco farmers, and truck gardeners. Small-city farmers might also be interested, he said.
Results achieved were measured by harvesting biomass tons/acre. Biomass harvested per acre was 6.7 tons in 2008 and 11.7 tons in 2009. Flick says this is more than the traditional switchgrass that is grown in the area. He learned that Miscanthus handled abundant rainfall and heat well. In fact, Flick suggested growing Miscanthus in very heavy wet soils, and not on hill ground.
As to the marketing of Miscanthus, Flick says a biorefinery, first and foremost, needs to be built. Flick suspects producers will organize, fund, and engineer plants like Show Me Energy Cooperative, depending on local interest. The cooperative presently licenses technologies to other producers groups so they can emulate their model.
“With today’s tight capital markets I see these plants on a small scale of less than 150,000 tons per year and providing real jobs in rural America,” said Flick. “Processing biomass is not easy, but the demand for renewable fuel is growing, especially for European export.”
In May 2011, the USDA announced that it would award $15 million to help more than 600 producers in 39 MO and KS counties establish biograss plots to provide alternative fuel to the Show Me Energy Cooperative under the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. The Show Me Energy project aims to reduce dependence on foreign oil and create jobs domestically, while at the same time demonstrating the sustainability gains of energy biomass.
The Biomass Crop Assistance Program area designation creates a “fuel shed” of 39 counties in western MO and eight adjacent eastern KS counties. Farmers in the fuel shed will grow dedicated energy crops of native grasses on marginal land, using best conservation practices to protect soil and water resources. Show Me Energy’s processing plant in Centerview, MO, has been designated by USDA as a biomass conversion facility, and will take the energy crops grown by the farmers and use them to produce electric power and liquid, “drop-in” fuel that replaces gasoline/diesel in autos.
Want more information? See the related SARE grant(s) FNC07-692, Planting and Growing Miscanthus Giganteus as a BioEnergy Crop in Missouri.
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Project products are developed as part of SARE grants. They are made available with support from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed within project products do not necessarily reflect the view of the SARE program or the U.S. Department of Agriculture. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.