Cellulosic ethanol arrives, but challenges remain

Photo courtesy of POET

Photo courtesy of POET

For many years we’ve been hearing that cellulosic ethanol is “just five years away”.  Now, with three cellulosic plants preparing to come online in 2014, it appears cellulosic ethanol has finally arrived.

However, according to John Hay, a University of Nebraska Extension educator specializing in energy and biofuels, there are still some questions about the economic viability of cellulosic ethanol production.

“The question is, can it be done cheap enough—and that really depends on a lot of things,” Hay says. “Can they get the feedstock at the price they want?  Is the price of oil where they can raise it and make it cheap enough?”

Hay says the boom in U.S. oil production has clouded the outlook for alternative fuels.

“The reality is that through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, the oil industry in the United States has really gone on an upswing—and that has kept the prices relatively low,” he says, “and that’s good, maybe, for us as consumers—but maybe not as good for that bioenergy market to climb very fast.

“So I think it’s going to be a very slow incline into some alternative fuels.”

Hay made those comments in an interview with Brownfield at a Switchgrass Bioenergy Feedstock field day near Beaver Crossing, Nebraska.

AUDIO: John Hay (7:38 MP3)

Missouri rice growers to have field day

Rice growers will gather in southeast Missouri this Thursday for the Missouri Rice Research Station Annual Field Day.

An aquatic crop, rice is planted on about 200-thousand acres in Missouri.  Michael Aide, chair of the Department of Agriculture at Southeast Missouri State University, tells Brownfield the Delta Region is great for growing rice, “Because Missouri and some of our other states along the Mississippi River have such an abundance of ground water, when we have the growing season, we can grow some of the best rice in the world.”

Aide says the Mississippi River is also a key channel for shipping Missouri rice all over the world.

Thursday’s field day will cover production practices ranging from weed management to the latest technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles (or drones) to help increase farmers’ profitability, “Breeding. We breed rice in Missouri. New varieties. We have programs on how to avoid herbicide spray drift. We have new remote sensing technologies to be demonstrated. We’re looking at new tillage methods for rice.”

Aide says Southeast Missouri State has just gotten a drone for its research farm and is teaching students the technology.  He predicts all modern farmers will have UAVs/drones within the next 10 years.

The field event begins this Thursday morning at the Missouri Rice Research Farm near Malden, Missouri.

Interview with Dr. Michael Aide (8:00 mp3)

More criticism of WOTUS

mcclaskey jackie-ks dept of agMore criticism of the way the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has handled its proposed “Waters of the U.S.” rule.

Jackie McClaskey, secretary of agriculture for the state of Kansas, questions whether the EPA is listening to the ag community’s concerns.

“I think what’s been most frustrating is, as the agricultural voices have gotten louder and tried to provide more input in a very reasonable way, the approach we’ve gotten back from the feds is that, ‘well, you just don’t understand it’,” McClaskey says. “So there is really not an honest attempt to have a two-way communication—and that’s frustrating for us as we’re trying to represent agriculture in this discussion.”

McClaskey says the proposed rule is another example of federal overreach where, in her words “logic and common sense have gone out the window.”

AUDIO: Jackie McClaskey (6:34 MP3)

Project LIBERTY nears start-up

project liberty 8-14Project LIBERTY, POET-DSM’s cellulosic ethanol plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa, is nearing the start-up of production.

According to a company news release, plant personnel are currently running biomass through the pretreatment process.  Once fully operational, Project LIBERTY will process 770 tons of corn cobs, leaves, husk and some stalk daily to produce 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, later ramping up to 25 million gallons annually.

POET-DSM officials say they plan to license their cellulosic production technology to companies across the U.S. and around the world.

Project LIBERTY will open its doors to the public at a Grand Opening Celebration on September 3rd.  The event will feature plant tours, a formal ceremony and more.

Nebraska’s crops right on schedule

Nebraska’s crops are developing pretty much on schedule.

As of Sunday, 78 percent of corn was in the dough stage or beyond, slightly ahead of the five-year average.  Twenty percent of the corn was dented, slightly behind average.

Eighty-nine percent of soybeans were setting pods or beyond, slightly ahead of average.  Sorghum coloring was 37 percent, well ahead of the seven percent average.  Dry beans setting pods stood at 86 percent, equal to the five-year average.

The good to excellent condition ratings for each crop were as follows: corn and soybeans, both 70 percent; sorghum, 60 percent; dry beans, 81 percent; and alfalfa hay, 60 percent.  Alfalfa hay third cutting was 68 percent complete, equal to the five-year average.

Range and pasture conditions stood at 48 percent good to excellent, 34 percent fair, and 18 percent poor to very poor.

Slight decline in Iowa’s crop ratings

Below-average precipitation last week across much of Iowa caused a drop in soil moisture, especially in the northeastern part of the state.  As a result, there was a slight decline in the condition ratings for the state’s corn and soybean crops.

“Iowa saw some spotty precipitation again last week, but significant parts of the state have missed some of the recent rainfalls and are reaching the point where some moisture is needed,” says Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey.  “Crop conditions in much of the state remain very good, especially in areas that have received some timely rainfall.”

Corn rated 75 percent good to excellent, down one point from last week, while soybeans came in at 73 percent good to excellent, down two points from a week ago.

Seventy-five percent of Iowa’s corn was in the dough stage or beyond, eight days ahead of the five-year average, with 16 percent of the crop dented.  Eighty-eight percent of soybean crop was setting pods or beyond, slightly above average.  Oat harvest for grain was virtually complete.

The third cutting of alfalfa hay advanced to 36 percent complete.  Sixty-five percent of all hay was rated in good to excellent condition.  Pastures continued to deteriorate and rated 54 percent good to excellent.

Iowa crops progressing nicely

Iowa’s corn crop is 75 percent dough up 20 points from last week and 20 points ahead of the five year average.  16 percent of the crop is dented up 9 points from a week ago but 9 points behind the five year average.  The crop is rated 75 percent good to excellent condition.

Iowa soybeans are 98 percent blooming, right at the five year average and up 2 points for the week.  88 percent are setting pods, 2 points ahead of normal for this date.  73 percent in good to excellent condition.

Iowa’s pastures are 54 percent good to excellent condition.

Read the full NASS report here:

Crops look good in Illinois

Illinois corn crop is 86 percent dough up 9 points for the week and 10 points ahead of the five-year average.  The crop is 34 percent dented, double what it was a week ago but still 4 points behind the five year average.  The crop is rated 80 percent good to excellent.

Illinois soybeans are 96 percent blooming, up two points from last week and 1 point ahead of the five year average.  89 percent are setting pods, 10 points ahead of average.  78 percent in good to excellent condition.

Illinois pastures are 66 percent good to excellent condition.

Read the full NASS report here:

Missouri crops get a good drink

Last week included significant rainfall across the state – giving crops a much needed drink in most places.

Ninety-one percent of Missouri corn crops are in the dough stage and denting took a big jump from last week, now at 52 percent. That’s 22 percentage points ahead of last year.

Corn condition is rated 83 percent good to excellent.

Missouri soybeans blooming progressed to 90 percent as of Sunday.  Soybeans setting pods reached 70 percent – well ahead of last year and the average. The rating of the state’s soybean crop is 78 percent good to excellent.

Cotton setting bolls reached 87 percent as of Sunday and nearly 80 percent of rice had headed.  Pastures are in mostly fair and good condition across the state.

Cool and dry continues in Wisconsin

Cool, dry conditions continue to hamper the corn crop in Wisconsin.  The weekly Crop Progress Report from the National Ag Statistics Service Wisconsin Field Office says precipitation is badly needed in a number of areas around the state.  Statewide soil moisture slipped another two points from last week now rated 45 percent short to very short with 53 percent rated adequate.

90 percent of the state’s corn is silking with 38 percent in or past dough stage.  Both numbers represent some nice improvements over a week ago but are both 4 points behind the five year average.  The corn crop is rated 65 percent good to excellent conditions.

The Wisconsin soybean crop is 68 percent good to excellent condition with 94 percent blooming and 79 percent setting pods.  Both numbers are slightly ahead of the five year average for this date.

95 percent of the oats are turning color with 55 percent harvested for grain.  90 percent of the winter wheat is combined.

Read the complete NASS report here: