Biofuel

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is in line to serve as a leader of the Governors' Biofuels Coalition.

Wes Agresta / Argonne National Laboratory

A project to use a giant grass for a biofuel is back on the drawing board after several problems arose during a test burn.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

Remember in the film Night of the Living Dead when the protagonist, Barbra, is running through the grassy hills to the forlorn farmhouse to escape her lumbering zombie of a brother?

Well, while recently reporting for Harvest Public Media, I spent time on farmland that looked eerily similar to the backdrop of George Romero's black and white magnum opus.

Kristofor Husted / KBIA

In the parched, rolling hills of western Missouri, you might expect to see a desolate scene after this summer’s drought. But in this field, hip-high native grass sways across the landscape like seaweed in the ocean.

Wayne Vassar is growing these native plants for biofuel.

“They’ve had corn or soy on (this land) in the past,” he said, “and what’s happened was when you have these kinds of slope it erodes pretty rapidly and you lose a lot of your fertility as the top soil goes down the hill.”

Farmland experts call this kind of land “marginal land.” The hills make it difficult for the soil to hold onto the topsoil nutrients. And along the rivers and other flood plains, frequent flooding can deprive plants the oxygen they need to survive. It all adds up to an estimated 116 million acres in the central U.S.

Land like this might only produce a profitable harvest with traditional crops, like corn or soybeans, once or twice every five years. That’s quite a financial risk for farmers. So how can farmers avoid that risk factor and make sure such soils provide a consistent economic return?

Business Beat: February 8, 2012

Feb 8, 2012
Kathleen Masterson / Harvest Public Media

This week: Farmers buying up grain bins to help play the market. Plus, how refineries in Kansas and Iowa could help find another source of bio fuel.