The prospect of commercial production of cellulosic ethanol from corn stover  — which is now a reality with the opening of the POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa — has spurred ag engineers to develop new equipment to improve efficiency of the harvesting process and quality of the material delivered to processing plants.

AGCO has taken a lead role in helping to evaluate and develop the harvest process but New Holland, Deere and Vermeer have also stepped up with research support and new machine concepts.

Glenn Farris heads AGCO’s newly formed marketing group dedicated to biomass, an initiative that illustrates the corporation’s increasing commitment to the sector. Loans of equipment for trials several years ago helped the learning curve and now AGCO supplies balers and tractors, service support and operator training for custom harvesters involved in DuPont’s Nevada, Iowa, plant due to go commercial soon.

The preferred method of stover collection and delivery for this plant is through high density large square bales, points out Farris. AGCO’s biomass team put together a program of training and daily service and support for custom harvesters using Hesston by Massey Ferguson balers to make sure productivity goals were met.

The jury is still out on which harvesting method will become most popular through the industry, which is expected to offer equipment makers solid sales opportunities.

For now, separate combining and baling — with tractor shredding and windrowing in between — is common practice. But one-pass operation has the attractions of reducing equipment and labor input and minimizing soil contamination risk.

Towing a baler behind the combine, which AGCO has researched with Challenger equipment, seems a logical solution, especially when stover can be fed directly to the baler.

Deere and Hillco Technologies have adopted this approach with a towed 569 round baler fed by a chopper-blower on the S-Series ProDrive combine. An accumulator chamber added to the baler permits non-stop operation.

Vermeer gets around the power sap issue by putting a 115 horsepower engine on its combine-towed corn cob harvester, which separates out and distributes leaves and husks back to the field.

For separate baling protagonists, New Holland Agriculture has adopted a corn header chopper-windrower attachment developed by Indiana-based dealer New Holland Rochester.

The Cornrower chops stover before it hits the ground and deposits stalk material in a windrow — with husks and cob on top — that picks up easily and packs well in a big square baler.

New Holland Rochester says tests at 4 mph with an 8-row header show less than a 3 gallon per hour increase in the combine’s fuel consumption for a system that avoids the added cost and risk of soil contamination inherent in using a tractor-mounted chopper-windrower.