Poet's first commercial corn cob harvest set for 2009

By Ryan C. Christiansen | November 03, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 13, 2008 at 2:18 p.m. CST

Sioux Falls, S.D.-based ethanol producer Poet LLC plans to conduct its first commercial harvest of corn cobs in the fall of 2009, according to Jim Sturdevant, director of Poet's Project LIBERTY. The Emmetsburg, Iowa, project includes converting Poet's 50 MMgy grain-to-ethanol plant to an integrated corn-to-ethanol and cellulose-to-ethanol biorefinery that will produce 125 MMgy of ethanol, 25 MMgy from corn cobs.

"Next fall, 2009, will be our first commercial harvest," Sturdevant said. "We will work with farmers and buy cobs, probably through a contract approach, but we want and we expect that there will be various equipment options available for farmers next fall—through either purchase or lease—or some other approach. We'll just keep this evolution going so that in 2009, a number of farmers are actually harvesting cobs and then in 2010, there will be more machinery available for lease or purchase and there will be more farmers involved. We will just let it grow from there."

Poet held its second cob harvesting demonstration, dubbed Project LIBERTY Field Day, near Emmetsburg on Nov. 6 with approximately 750 farmers in attendance, Sturdevant said. He said interest among farmers in cob harvesting is growing, noting that last March, more than 500 farmers attended an indoor meeting to discuss cob harvesting and no equipment was on display.

"This is an opportunity for farmers to get an additional revenue stream without requiring them to change their planting practices," Sturdevant said. Harvesting technology from Vermeer Corp., Demco, Agco Corp., Claas of America Inc., Deere & Co., CNH America LLC, Fantini North America, Redekop Manufacturing, Trail King Industries, Unverferth Manufacturing Company Inc., and Wildcat Manufacturing, were on display and available for close inspection by farmers during Poet's Field Day. Representatives from combine leasing company Machinery Link were also on hand. Due to the wet weather, the equipment manufacturers were not able to demonstrate their equipment in the field during one-day event.

"What's exciting is that so many equipment companies and all of the major equipment companies are working on this," Sturdevant said. "Last year, there were essentially two pieces of cob harvesting equipment that we tested with one farmer in South Dakota and since that time, it has grown. During this harvest, there are many farmers involved in three different states and many equipment manufacturers are involved testing prototype equipment at various stages of development."

Poet is harvesting as many as 10,000 acres of cobs during this year's demonstration harvests in Texas, South Dakota, and Iowa, Sturdevant said. Poet is currently producing ethanol from corn cobs in a laboratory setting and will be producing cellulosic ethanol on a pilot-scale at its Scotland, S.D., plant by the end of the year. "The research that's going on requires a relatively small number of cobs," he said. "With the testing that's going on this fall, we're meeting that requirement with no problem."