“What opportunities do you see for selling biomass harvesting equipment — stalk balers, cob collection systems, etc. — in your region? How do you see this market’s potential for increasing sales evolving during the next 3-5 years?”
“In our region, we are primarily a grass land cattle operation area. However, we have seen a large increase in biomass corn planting around the local counties. I would assume as the biomass industry moves forward there will be opportunities for sales of biomass harvesting equipment. With the smaller farms such as we have in our area, I am not overly optimistic at the number of sales we will see here. I am thinking we may see more sales to custom harvesters rather than independent farmers.”
— Michael E. Betts, Gateway Farm Equipment, Neosho Mo.
“If I’m not mistaken, there is a biomass plant going in near Edwardsville, Ill. Supposedly, a single supplier will stock the plant. If that’s the case, our dealership will probably be out. One of the larger dealers will probably get that business.
When it comes to balers those dealers really don’t know much about them. So we probably will get involved on the service end one way or another.
With 6 balers and 6 150-horsepower tractors you’re looking at probably a deal around $1.5 million. That’s just one operation. I think the potential would be in the hundreds of millions overall. It will be a very good opportunity to branch out for increased sales."
— Jeff Suchomski, Suchomski Equipment Inc., Pinckneyville, Ill.
“Currently this market is in its infancy. There has been some interest and there is a potential market here, however a lot of factors come into play in a developing market. How fast will the technology change? What will the pulse of the government and general public be toward these products? The start up costs to get into this business can be a determining factor, as well.
I would anticipate this market growing in the future and think that in 3-5 years it possibly could become a factor in our industry."
— Mark Foster, Birkeys Farm Store Inc., Bloomington, Ill.
“We have a biomass ethanol plant being built 30 miles away. They will be harvesting in a 50-mile radius of their plant. There will be a need for equipment that will leave 20-40% of the residue to prevent soil erosion. There is going to be a demand for some special equipment to meet these needs.”
—Keith Wood, American Implement, Garden City, Kan.
“Interesting question. I have been dealing with the local ag university here in Ontario for the last 19 years or so and they are researching the viability of biomass as a fuel source. At present they are using a John Deere 7250 chopper with the row independent head to harvest a variety of grasses. I can see that in the next number of years a niche industry could develop in our region. It is something that I personally take an interest in and will be watching developments locally and also nationally.
It’s hard to predict the market for biomass harvesting equipment at this point, but my best guess would be that there will be some limited potential in the future.
On a recent trip to Deere’s self-propelled forage harvester factory in Germany, I was made aware that it offers a wood chipper header for harvesting willow and other biomass crops.
Certainly I will be watching further developments as they occur."
—Clare Gingrich, Elmira Farm Service, Elmira, Ontario
The University of Guelph runs a John Deere 7250 chopper to harvest a variety of grasses to research their viability as a fuel source. Photo courtesy Henk Wichers, University of Guelph.
“We have had one customer ask about this, and that was the ag department of the Texas State University. Not one more call when they saw the cost of a compost-rolling machine and a tractor large enough to pull it."
—Allen Berry, ACM Tractor Sales, San Marcos, Texas
“The challenge of biomass is contained in its name: mass. To have a significant impact on the energy needs of our country we need massive quantities of raw product, beyond our current ability to handle these crops. We have yet to see the technology produce usable amounts of energy to show a profit beyond cost of production that draws venture capital in quantity.
South American countries have the luxury of being able to have, for example, sugar cane-converting ethanol plants right next to large cities. We in America have the problem of wanting our cake and eating it too — maybe having our energy and not wanting it produced. We would not stand for large acreages of burning crop foliage or areal defoliation necessary to produce this type of energy — just as we will not allow the strip mining of coal, drilling for oil in Alaska or building of nuclear plants.
We have a farm in West Tennessee (we hobby farm with my brother, Dr. Tony Brannon, dean of agriculture, Murray State University) and have been involved with switch grass production pilot programs for both ethanol and clean energy.
The clean energy side is using switch grass to burn with coal to produce less polluting power plants. The grants helped start production after farmers had established the stands for a supply of biomass. The pilot plant was funded and built in East Tennessee — our government at work providing for our future.
The production of biomass is a journey into high risk, with high-priced packagers of the raw product, high horsepower requirements, and high transportation costs. Most of all, it means high investments for a low-dollar return for all these “highs.”
The answer to our biomass solution is in the utilization of current machinery, harvesting crops grown on marginal land, short hauls to pelletizing plants, then a rail/barge system to economically transport the product to either power plants or ethanol plants.
Our nation must find a way to energy independence. The way is through use of existing dual-purpose machinery, more efficient packaging and transportation methods and private (non-government) management. Biomass production can mean low risk and low investment and can yield high nation-saving results."
—Tim Brannon, B&G Equipment Inc., Paris, Tenn.
“Biomass production for fueling energy sources will be more accepted by consumers if it can be grown on marginal land not suited for food production.
Corn ethanol has not been fully explained to the consumer: ethanol production increased corn volumes in the U.S. by 30% and has only raised food prices 1%.
The next question is how will we harvest miscanthus giganteus grass, with its height of 12 feet. Ideas include a forage harvester and a big square baler. There is a need for an equipment company to create a product to harvest biomass economically.
We are going to grow some crops for biomass, and we will help any company with ideas.
—Wayne Schnelle, S&H Farm Supply Inc., Lockwood, Mo.
Make sure to read through the rest of the articles from the March 2011 issue:
To The Point:
- Just Getting Started (with Rick Walters of Southwest Ag in Bayfield, Colo.)
75 Years of Keeping the Customer Running
Planning For Profits:
Benchmark Your Service Personnel Costs
The Business of Selling:
Replacing Non Performers
Exclusively Online Content
2010 National Farm Machinery Show Photo Gallery
Check out our extensive photo coverage from the 2011 National Farm Machinery Show.
Strengthening European Markets May Mean More Exports to U.S.
February brought hoards of international equipment manufacturers to rainy Paris, France, to network and display their latest innovations at the 2011 SIMA show.