Ag Education Day promotes future knowledge
By Dave Smith
EMMETSBURG, Iowa – Global economies are rapidly changing and populations are expanding at a remarkable rate. These changes will impact future demand for agricultural products and alter how energy is consumed throughout the world.
Ag Education Day, organized by the Kossuth/Palo Alto County Economic Development Corporation and sponsored by nearly 50 area businesses, was held March 10 in Emmetsburg at Wild Rose Casino. It was the fourth Ag Education Day held by the Corporation.
“The Ag Education Day for 2011 was an outstanding day.” said Maureen Elbert, Executive Director of Kossuth/Palo Alto County Economic Development Corporation, “It was filled with interesting speakers who challenged the audience to really look to the future and see where we think we are in preparedness. We had a great turnout and excellent reviews for this event. Our Kossuth/Palo Alto Ag Committee did a great job on identifying topics that needed to be covered and potential speakers. The whole event was well organized, with stimulating speakers and great networking opportunities.”
More than 100 people gathered to hear speakers talk about what the coming decades hold for Ag-related business, with a particular focus on how changes in energy demands may be profitable for Midwest farmers.
Brenda Deal of Electronic Specialties in Algona, found the event informative.
“There is a lot of potential for our area to be developed into something that can serve the entire world through our resources and our people,” she said. “We have a lot of learning to do. It seems like some are accepting the changes and others have to see the future is changing.”
David Beurle, managing director of Innovative Leadership Australia Pty Ltd started the day off detailing how economic power is shifting to places like China and India and how population changes in these and other countries is driving the shift. Beurle said it is important to consider what the consequences of such changes will be and encouraged attendees to find out what those trends mean to the Midwest.
He said the world oil supply has already reached, or is now reaching, its peak meaning that renewable fuel sources will become more important.
“Liquid fuel is a big issue, especially for Ag because of its dependence upon it,” Beurle said. It will effect Ag production, food prices, housing and transportation.
Climate change trends will lead to lower crop yields around the world, but middle and northern latitudes – where Mid-America lies – will actually experience increases. Where populations rise, crop yields will go likely go down, leaving the Midwest in an excellent position to take advantage of the changes.
“An energy revolution is coming, climate change is here, the world will be hungry and need new technology,” Beurle noted. “This part of the world could outperform the rest of the world coming out of the recession. If there's a game changing set of circu mstances, and I say there is, how can we capitalize on it?”
With the topic being a focus on Ag in the future, a group of students from Emmetsburg High School's Ag class found the event enlightening.
“I think it's been pretty good,” said Senior Jake Tonderum. “I liked (Beurle). He made me think a lot.”
Senior Josh Kibbie also found Beurle's presentation interesting.
“He put into perspective how to deal with a growing population and diesel running out,” Kibbie said.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey spoke about potential markets for Iowa farmers in the changing world economy.
“We have great farmland and we do that really, really well,” Northey said. “The impact of Ag is phenomenal. We need farmers to be creative about how to do a better job... Where's our role?”
Dr. David A. Laird, University of Iowa Agronomy Dept. and the Environmental Sciences program discussed the benefits of biochar as a soil amendment. Biochar is a stable amendment that provides a number of benefits such as greatly improving degraded soils and retaining nitrogen, phosphorous and water in the soil.
Taking the topic further, Dennis Banasiak, Ph.D., president of Avello Bioenergy, spoke on Avello's Bioenergy Prolysis. The fast pyrolysis process endeavors to replace the entire barrel of oil, not only the portion used for transportation.
One product of the process, which heats biomass in the absence of oxygen at 500 degrees for two seconds, is bio-oil, which can be burned, used for heat or used for power. He described it as being a lot like heavy oil that smells like BBQ.
“Bio-oil that has purchased hydrogen added to it can approach the cost of corn biofuel per gallon,” Banasiak said.
“Some companies are already looking to hydrolization to use bio-oil for transportation,” he explained.
Avello has a demonstration plant already in place on the Bio Century resource farm at Iowa State University. The plant produced bioasphalt for a nearly mile-long, 10-foot wide bike path, proving the product can be used with typical asphalt equipment.
Bioasphalt has an longer life than fossil fuel-based asphalt and is a possible solution in a $13 billion market built on a dwindling resource that is seeing more refiners doing other things with what is available.
Avello is looking to build other plants and continue developing bio-oil, bioasphalt and even green roofing products.
Conley Nelson, Midwest General Manager or Murphy-Brown LLC, shared details of his trip to Japan last year with the U.S. Meat Export Federation. The trip, Nelson said, was a positive one for Iowa pork producers.
He said Japan accounts for about one billion pounds of U.S. pork exports valued at approximately $1.5 billion. The quality, price and availability of U.S. pork in the Japanese market are all positive factors, Nelson added.
“U.S. pork seems trendy,” Nelson said. “There is a lot of opportunity. We can get equal quality with (Japanese) domestic pork at quite a savings. I feel there's an opportunity there.”
Other presenters on the day included Adam Wirt, Regional Biomass Coordinator for POET biomass. Wirt provided an update on POET's Project Liberty cellulosic ethanol refinery under construction in Emmetsburg. He said the feed supply is in place, the storage area is complete, federal and state permits are secured and ground will be broken late this year. The plant is slated to begin operations in late 2012.
The facility will have a 25 million gallons per year capacity and be powered by biogas instead of natural gas, resulting in a negative greenhouse gas effect.
Dean Lemke, Iowa Dept. of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, addressed attendees on the use of wetlands as a “treatment plant” to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from water in the state before it enters the Mississippi River adding to the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Iowa is in need of a revamping of the existing drainage system to meet water quality requirements.
Mark Kingland, co-owner of Energy Solutions-OTB, rounded out the day talking about emerging energy technologies, primarily methane digesters. He told of a methane digester in the Amana Colonies producing 2.4 megawatts of energy from animal waste and a landfill ethanol plant in Ohio generating 15 megawatts of electricity valued at $5 million. That plant, he said, flares off another $2.5 million in gas annually. One of the big issues facing potential generation from these types of plants is the capacity of the transmission system, but another issue facing ethanol production – the availability of corn, isn't really an issue at all.
“The corn available for domestic use and export has not changed since ethanol (production) started,” Kingland said.
For more information contact:
Maureen Elbert, Executive Director
Kossuth/Palo Alto County Economic Development Corporation
106 S. Dodge St., Suite 210
Algona, Iowa 50511
Ph: (515) 295-7979 Fax: (515) 295-8873
www.kossuth-edc.com / www.paloaltoiowa.com