FSA Program Supports Ethanol Production, Improves Iowa Farmer’s Bottom Line

Bailed stover ready for shipment to a cellulosic ethanol plant. Photo courtesy of Jay Gunderson.

By Kelly Novak, FSA Energy Programs Manager

There’s an old saying that when a farmer raises a hog the only part that isn’t used is the squeal.

In Ringsted, Iowa, Jay and Roslyn Gunderson raise hogs, along with soybeans and corn, on their 1,500 acre farm. The hogs eat the corn and produce plenty of nutrient-rich manure as a byproduct. This effluent is used to nourish the soil, but that leaves another by-product to be handled: corn stover, stalks left after the corn harvest. Recently, the Gunderson’s came to a feedstocks logistics conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to discuss the importance of corn stover and operations like theirs to renewable energy production. 

Stover is high in sugar content and lends itself to conversion into ethanol, but the stalks are bulky and costly to transport. In the past, a farmer like Jay Gunderson would either grind up the stover or plow it back into the field, but now, instead of disrupting the soil and disposing of it on the farm, Gunderson bales his excess stover and it is delivered to a local cellulosic ethanol plant for conversion into fuel. He also offers custom baling and staging of the bales to nearby farms.

What makes it all possible, says Gunderson, is the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) administered by the Farm Service Agency. BCAP provides financial assistance to owners and operators of agricultural and non-industrial private forest land who wish to establish, produce and deliver biomass feedstocks.

“BCAP is essential to producers like me,” Gunderson said, adding that, “there are some challenges due to limited labor supply.”

“We have a product with a bright future,” said Gunderson. “We’re just scratching the surface…Stover isn’t insured, so to have a ‘price floor’ put in there by the program is very helpful.”

Kelly Novak, FSA Energy Programs Manager (L); Rosyln and Jay Gunderson at the National Press Club. With assistance from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), the Gundersons harvest corn stover on their 1,500 acre farm near Ringsted, Iowa, and provide it to a nearby plant for conversion into ethanol.

Gunderson says that without the program, and a contract from an end-user, stover wouldn’t get harvested.  There will come a day when stover harvesting could pencil out without BCAP “but we’re not there yet.”

The feedstock logistics conference at the press club was jointly sponsored by the Council on Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics (CFARE) and the USDA Office of Energy Policy and New Uses, part of USDA’s Office of the Chief Economist.

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