Miscanthus giganteus was a tall, bothersome grass a few years back, a good privacy plant, but to some, just a weed. It could grow about anywhere, reaching heights of 12-15 feet, and do it perennially for 20 years or more.
Some say Miscanthus giganteus had a bad reputation, but it doesn’t bother Terry Lowe anymore. He’s hoping to turn it into renewable energy while it grows on 31 acres of his 66-acre farm in Ashtabula County, Ohio.
Lowe says he learned about Miscanthus giganteus from a neighbor. “The neighbors got involved with miscanthus by happenstance. We learned about it through them and then learned about the BCAP program.” BCAP is the Biomass Crop Assistance Program offered through USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Lowe is co-owner of Ramblin Rose Alpacas with his wife Glenda. They have been raising breeding stock of the fleece-bearing animal for the past seven years. Lowe says he grew his own feedstoc hay on the 40 acres he has converted to the miscanthus field, 31 acres in miscanthus and nine acres in a conservation buffer around the field. They’re downsizing the Alpaca herd and he hopes the miscanthus field will help him “retire again.”
Would he have ventured into the new arena without BCAP?
“Not without the incentive, absolutely not.”
Lowe says he and Glenda weighed the options of staying with the hay, some of which he sold for added income to their Alpacas business, but compared to the projected income from miscanthus, it was “a no brainer.” All he needed was the incentive to put the crop in the ground and let in mature, a 3-5 year process, thus, the reason for the incentive. But after that, it produces a renewable energy crop for 20 years or more.
Lowe describes himself as like most mid-Americans. He says we need to approach energy production from all angles. “We should explore; we’re going to be on oil a long time, but we need alternatives.” He says it’s smart to look for the next generation of fuel. He believes he will be contributing with his miscanthus crop.
“We Americans can walk and chew gum at the same time. Let’s do it all.”
Why did he choose to jump in now?
“Aloterra Energy. They know what they’re doing. They studied it. They’ve got a market for it. They explained it very well. It made sense.”
Aloterra Energy is the Project Area sponsor working with FSA and the BCAP program. The company proposed converting 3,658 acres of Ohio and Pennsylvania farmland into miscanthus fields. The company intends to pay producers for their crop, which Aloterra will turn into fuel pellets for industrial uses.
Scott Coye-Huhn, senior vice president, corporate development and chief legal officer for Aloterra Energy, LLC, says in 20-30 years BCAP is going to have the biggest impact. “It solves the chicken and egg issue.”
Coye-Huhn said introducing farmers to the idea of using their land to grow miscanthus was a matter of “boots to the ground and hard work.” He says the company put in 15-18 hours a day educating men and women like Terry and Glenda Lowe about BCAP and what it can do for the community.
Aloterra hired 100 people just from planting miscanthus on a few thousand acres. Coye-Huhn says, based on third party projections, they expect to have 3,600 new jobs created in four different project areas, which will generate an economic impact of $200 million.
For Terry and Glenda Lowe, they’re excited to be a part of it.