Deputy Under Secretary Ann Mills and Adlai Schetter in front of a test plot. NRCS photo
If you ever wonder about the future of agriculture, go no further than Brighton, Illinois. Just 10 minutes with 15-year-old Adlai Schetter will reinforce that stewardship of private working lands is in good hands. It will also convince you that cover crops and second generation biofuels are a dynamic part of our agricultural future. On the day I visited with Adlai at his parents’ farm, he summed up his vision in a professional PowerPoint presentation to an audience of more than 20 state and federal officials.
Adlai spends a lot of his free time researching the effectiveness of different cover crop seed mixes that include rye and radishes. After his formal presentation, we walked over to his test plots. I asked him if he’s determining which cover crop work best and he responded that “they are like players on a football team, they each have important roles.” Adlai understands how to make these cover crops work for him. While other farmers may be looking at bare fields this winter and early next spring, Adlai and his parents get to watch their cover crops scavenge nutrients, improve soil porosity and suppress weeds. This frees up time for Adlai to spend on another passion – the second generation biofuel miscanthus. Adlai puts his harvested miscanthus to work fueling a burner that heats a cavernous building that houses farm equipment and the farm’s office. Ten bales a day of miscanthus and corn stover keep the building a comfortable 72 degrees throughout the cold Illinois winter. This winter he will experiment with using even less fuel. Asked if he gets any school credit for all this work, Adlai responds, “not really.” Read more »
Agricultural attachés from around the world explore a cranberry marsh in Warrens, Wis.
Wisconsin is known worldwide for its cheese, but what about its cranberries, ginseng, urban agriculture or innovative biofuels research? Last week, I had the opportunity to help expand the global reputation of Wisconsin beyond dairy. I shared the diversity of American agriculture with representatives from over 20 countries through a tour of the state.
Agricultural attachés from around the world are usually stationed at their countries’ embassies in Washington, DC – close to the politics but far away from most American agriculture. To give these representatives a real look at our industry, USDA-FAS arranges annual tours to various parts of the United States. It’s a great opportunity for the attachés to learn about the variety that exists in American agriculture, to see some of our innovative approaches, and to meet the farmers who provide products exported to their countries. Read more »
USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno listens as Erik Chaffer, environmental health, safety and logistics manager for Three Rivers Energy, recounts the long-hoped for reopening of the ethanol plant he helped mothball in 2008 during the Great Recession. Located in rural Coshocton County, Ohio, the plant employs nearly 40 area residents and purchases corn from local farmers. (USDA photo: Heather Hartley)
Erik Chaffer considers himself an optimist. Still, he found himself feeling pretty low as he watched the Great Recession knock the legs out from under the rural Ohio ethanol plant he helped manage.
“Everything was pretty good until July 2008. It was just a ‘perfect storm’ type of situation,” said Chaffer. “The unknown is the worst part of it. You can’t make plans for the future. It’s a very stressful, unnerving way of life.” Read more »
In conjunction with Washington State University Extension, USDA is co-hosting the Northwest Wood-Based Biofuels/Co-Products Conference in late April. The conference will be April 28-30, 2014 in Seattle, Wash.
The goal of the conference is to bring together the community of researchers, business leaders, government agencies, and economic development personnel to share and exchange research findings, ideas, and strategies for the common goal of sustainable development of wood-based bio-refineries for production of biofuels and co-products in the Pacific Northwest. Read more »
Harvard Forest staff renovated a pole barn to house the boiler room and modern wood shop. The new boiler room (left side of the building) contains three wood gasification boilers, a 2,500-gallon thermal storage tank, a propane-fired backup boiler and associated pumps and system controls. The sloped roof on the left of the building provides a dry storage area for racks of firewood prior to loading in the boilers. (U.S. Forest Service/Rob Clark)
I recently had the opportunity to speak at the dedication ceremony for the Harvard Forest Wood Energy Project, an exciting venture partially supported by the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area. This woody-biomass heating system will support 50,000 square feet of the central campus buildings and five dormitories, replacing fuel-oil with renewable firewood that comes from Harvard Forest, a 3,500-acre laboratory and classroom in Petersham, Mass., and owned by Harvard University.
A unique aspect of this project is that it is at the heart of a long-term forest carbon research project. Not only are carbon flows in the Harvard Forest where the wood for the new energy system will come from already being closely studied, but now every aspect of the new installation will be very closely monitored and studied as well. Read more »
The Wilds’ 60-acre demonstration site showcases a variety of native grasses.
Yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Natural Resources Conservation Chief Jason Weller announced 33 Conservation Innovation Grants awarded to entities across the nation to develop and demonstrate cutting-edge ideas to accelerate private lands conservation.
As the chief said during a media call with the secretary, “The Conservation Innovation Grant program brings together the strength and innovation of the private and non-profit sectors, academia, producers and others to develop and test cutting-edge conservation tools and technologies and work side-by-side with producers to demonstrate how solutions work on the land.” Read more »