Growers May Have Option On Rotational Crops

Published online: Nov 05, 2004
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Potato growers in Idaho may have an option to increase returns from their rotational grain crops by selling straw to be used in an enthanol production facility.

Ray Hess, Ashton, ID, seed grower, is chairman of a formation commmitee working out of an Idaho Falls, ID, office. He said the money has been put up, the enzyme to quickly turn straw into sugar and hence ethanol has been discovered, and the only thing lacking is straw.

Hess said it can be wheat, barley or oat straw and even grass. They would be a valuable bypropduct of grain crops which most Idaho growers use in rotation with their potato crops.

The size of the plant would be contingent on the amount of straw that would be consigned for the production of ethanol. 

Hess and a committee made up of Spencer Brookshier, potato consultant; Larry Sautter, formerly with Pillsbury in Shelley, ID; Dan Hargraves, a potato seed broker, and LaMar Isaak from American Falls, ID, are involved.

Their effort is to sign growers up for straw tonnage to be used in the plant. Hess says a plant could require as much as three-quarters of a million tons. With lesser amounts of straw subscribed, the plant would be downsized. It could be built as early as 2006.

Hess is working with Maurice Hladik, executive vice president of Iogen, a company formed by the Foody Family, which will provide the start-up money along with Shell Oil Company. It could be a $50 million package if enough straw can be located in Idaho and northern Utah.

Hess has been working on the project for two years with Foodys. He says a scientist by the name of Nancy Ho has discovered a great enzyme in Guam that will rapidly break straw down to sugar which can then be made into ethanol alcohol for oxgenate fuel to be added to gasoline.

Work on this chemistry has been conducted at Purdue University in Indiana and at the INEEL in Idaho.

The group's office has been located at the Innovation Center at 2300 No. Yellowstone Avenue, Idaho Falls, ID, 83401. Kip Hix, from the Idaho Development Agency, is helping the group.

The straw would be bought in the windrow. Growers could bale it themselves or utilize custom balers and haulers to move it to the plant which will be located somewhere in eastern Idaho.

Hess says Iogen is a family company, verification has been made, and the company is totally transparent. He said they looked at Idaho because of its consistently high-quality crops grown with irrigation. Idaho has been called an "oasis" in the United States because of its consistently high-quality grain crops.

Besides utilizing a byproduct to give growers an income source, it would also have environmental considerations, eliminating the problem of burning stubble off grain fields.

Iogen is five years ahead of other companies working on similar projects, Hess said. They have no competition at this time, especially considering that more ethanol can be made from straw than from subsidized corn enthanol.

Hess visited a demonstration plant in Ottawa and was impressed with the operation. He said there are other locations in Canada and the United States vying for the plant.