Iowa’s new ag secretary says there are plenty of questions to wrestle with as farmers prepare for the next generation of ethanol production. Ag Secretary Bill Northey says there may be a need for a new piece of farm machinery to harvest corn stalks.
"Right now we use the corn and the starch that’s in that corn to produce ethanol," Northey says. "What we’re talking about is being able to use the cellulose that’s in that plant to produce ethanol."
Northey says the industry hasn’t figured out if the ear of corn can stay on the stalk and the entire plant can be harvested and processed into ethanol, or whether the corn needs to be combined the traditional way — harvesting the kernels of corn — and then a separate piece of machinery would pass through the field to harvest the corn stalks.
"Those are all issues that are part of the research process that we have to go through to make sure we can make a (cellulose ethanol) plant and make it cost effective," Northey says. Farmers who feed silage to their livestock go through the fields when the plants are green and chop up the entire corn plant.
"Probably for an ethanol plant…you would harvest the corn when it is fully mature, that’s when you get the best yields — and you would harvest the…corn stalks when they’re dry because that stores a lot easier," Northey says. "You could harvest it in bales or stacks and store those in a way that would last a lot of the year and not have to cover them in air-tight packages like we do our silage right now." But Northey says people are still trying to figure out the most-economical way to approach harvesting the stalks.