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Co-op sees opportunity in carbon: Missouri farmers selling biomass to coal plant

September 28, 2009

[Source: DTN/The Progressive Farmer; Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor]

CENTERVIEW, Mo. (DTN) — Steve Flick sees huge opportunities for farmers under climate legislation, but not necessarily from selling carbon credits. The potential better opportunity is for farmers and landowners to sell crop waste to help coal plants and others reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions, he said.

Flick is board president for Show Me Energy Cooperative, a group of about 400 farmers spread over 28 counties in west-central Missouri who are collecting farm biomass and converting it into pellets. Such pellet conversion helps deal with some of the key logistical issues of biomass, notably transportation and storage.

Others across the country also are making fuel pellets from switchgrass or agricultural waste, but Show Me Energy was the first biomass conversion facility approved by USDA under the new Biomass Crop Assistance Program. Show Me Energy acted quickly when the program was announced and qualified for matching payments under BCAP for collection, harvest, storage and transportation (CHST). That means USDA will match payments up to $45 a ton for bales delivered to Show Me Energy.

For more information on USDA’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program, visit:…

Show Me Energy began production last January after developing its pellet production process and building membership through an equity drive in 2007. Flick and others formed the concept of converting crop residue from Missouri’s robust grass-seed industry.

“But the cooperative wasn’t built overnight,” Flick said. “It took six or seven years to get here.”

The grass-seed industry largely develops prairie and native grasses used in roadway remediation projects. Left behind in the seed harvest are thousands of acres of grasses that have little or no livestock grazing or haying value, but can make a steady feedstock for a biomass facility. Nearly 400 farmers, mostly seed growers, joined Show Me’s equity drive and agreed to deliver biomass to the facility. Flick also stresses that the cooperative doesn’t compete with livestock producers in the process. Seed waste, sawdust and wood chips are all part of the biomass pellets.

“We’re not doing hay,” Flick said. “We don’t take anything that has any feed value.”

Climate legislation has been controversial in agriculture as debate rages over whether increases in input costs would outweigh the value farmers and landowners gain in carbon credits. Beyond potential carbon credits, Flick said there are greater opportunities selling biomass to power plants that need to reduce their own carbon emissions.

“What they don’t realize is the carbon sink they have to offer power producers,” Flick said. “It’s not just sequestration, it’s biomass.”

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