Focus on Agriculture: Weather impacts biomass feedstock production and harvest

Posted: Sep. 29, 2011 10:37 am Updated: Nov. 28, 2014 2:17 pm

The weather in Illinois affects everything, including current research in the development of biomass as an energy source.

Recent agronomy and crop science studies suggest that winter is the optimal time to harvest miscanthus, one of the promising agricultural crops being evaluated as a potential biomass feedstock alternative, so researchers at the University of Illinois have studied the impact weather can have on feedstock production and harvest, as well as subsequent storage and supply activities.

"Winter in Illinois can be very difficult, and you cannot ignore its impact on the feedstock harvest system," said Yogendra Shastri, a visiting research assistant professor in the Department of Agriculture and Biological Engineering and member of the Energy Biosciences Institute in the Institute for Genomic Biology.

The probability of working day, or PWD, defines the fraction of days in a specific period, such as two weeks, that are suitable for field operations, and its value depends on a number of weather-related parameters such as rainfall, snow depth, soil temperature and soil moisture content.

"We found that if you assume every day is available for field work, lower PWD value could increase your actual costs by as much as 38 percent. You lost biomass, and that has an impact on all the subsequent operations," Shastri said. "A way to compensate for that is to buy more machinery, so that you are still able to complete all the operations in the limited amount of time you have. However, this leads to about 34 percent more investment in machinery. So it's a trade-off."

Recommendations to start harvest in late October or early November, instead of January, "will have a significant impact on reducing the cost," Shastri said.

Researchers also found that switchgrass, another candidate energy crop, is not impacted as much by weather since it is harvested in late fall when the weather is much more conducive.


Marketbasket survey

Missouri Farm Bureau's third quarter Marketbasket Survey, an informal comparison of food prices for 16 staple food items, shows prices up slightly.

"The third quarter prices for the 16 items rang in at $49.32, compared to the second quarter prices of $47.23," said Diane Olson, director of promotion and education for the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The national average for the same items was $53.12, $3.80 more than shoppers paid in Missouri.

Olson said protein-rich foods like beef and pork had the most significant increases.

"We only saw two meat counter items drop in price this quarter -- ground chuck down 10 cents a pound and boneless chicken breasts down three cents a pound -- otherwise meat prices trended higher. Sirloin tip roast increased 23 cents a pound, a pound of bacon increased 24 cents and sliced deli-ham went up 33 cents a pound."

Global demand for beef and pork is part of the reason for the higher prices.

"We are seeing a lot of beef and pork exported to developing countries where populations have a higher income and are able to afford more meat products," Olson said.

But drought, floods and fires also cause problems for farmers and ranchers with pastures and hay production.

"All of this comes into play when farmers and ranchers determine whether or not to expand their herds," Olson said. "There is not a lot of expansion taking place -- essentially, the livestock market is flat."

Compiled by Herald-Whig Staff Writer Deborah Gertz Husar



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