Sustainable solutions

JOHNSTON – A new conservation collaboration is fueling the cellulosic ethanol industry in Iowa, while protecting soil and water quality, thanks to a joint agreement between DuPont and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Working with farmers is critical to maximizing the land’s productivity and protecting natural resources,” said Jim Borel, executive vice president of DuPont, who traveled to Johnston recently with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to announce the federal-private partnership.

“With this new collaboration, we have a partner in the NRCS to ensure that the collection of corn stover for the production of cellulosic, renewable fuel makes sense for an individual grower’s operation and the land they farm.”

Jeff Taylor, who farms near Nevada and serves as the chairman of Lincolnway Energy, said he is excited about the possibilities.

“Harvesting stover for ethanol production has complemented our farming operation,” he said. “Today’s higher plant populations and healthier crops produce a lot of stover, and removing some of this means less tillage and faster crop emergence in the spring.

“We’re also getting the same or better yields on these acres.”

A sustainable harvest

The joint agreement between NRCS and DuPont aims to set voluntary standards for the sustainable harvesting of agricultural residues for renewable fuel.

It also supports rural job creation, additional income for farmers, bio-based energy development and a way to safeguard natural resources and land productivity, Vilsack said.

“Building a bio-based economy starts and ends with the soil.,” he said. “Both USDA and DuPont share an interest in helping individual farmers adapt to new market opportunities in ways that are consistent with the wise use of soil, water and energy resources.”

USDA, through NRCS, will provide conservation planning assistance for farmers who supply bio-based feedstocks to bio-refineries as the industry begins to commercialize.

Conservation plans, written for individual operations, will ensure the sustainable harvest of corn crop residues, while promoting natural resource conservation and land productivity.

“This is exciting for stewardship in Iowa,” said Jay Mar, NRCS state conservationist. “Our precious soils in Iowa are the living engine of agriculture, and farmers have a new way to voluntarily protect their soil and water quality while providing feedstocks for DuPont.”

DuPont will develop a process to work with cooperating farms on sustainable harvest practices that help keep soil in the field and out of rivers, streams and lakes; promote healthier soils, which help reduce flooding through increased infiltration rates; and provide for the efficient use of nutrients.

The company will need nearly 600,000 bales of stover, roughly 375,000 tons, per year to reach its initial goals.

DuPont’s first plant involved in this national agreement is located near Nevada, where it is building a 30-million-gallon-per-year cellulosic facility.

This plant will use harvested residues from a 30-mile radius around the facility. This plant is the first of possibly eight ethanol production facilities planned by DuPont in Iowa.

“More than 90 percent of Iowa’s farmers incorporate conservation practices on their farms, and this will offer another resource to help them implement more conservation,” said Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who spoke at a press conference announcing the USDA-DuPont collaboration.

“The USDA-DuPont agreement will also work hand-in-hand with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy to preserve our topsoil and protect our waterways.”