A second harvest is underway in some western Kansas fields to remove the stubble left after wheat is cut and provide extra income for farmers.
Some farmers burn the stubble after wheat harvest. Some disk it. Some plant the next crop right into it. But Courtney Wilson, harvest manager for Pacific Ag, told The Hutchinson News that those farmers are leaving a paycheck out in the field.
"I sometimes feel like a door-to-door salesman," Wilson said as he watched a crew bale the straw.
Straw is widely used for livestock bedding, but farmers within a 100-mile radius of Abengoa's biomass plant in Hugoton have another option for its use. Wilson's company bales up the straw and hauls it to the plant to be turned into cellulosic ethanol.
In the semi-arid High Plains of Kansas, the residue from irrigated harvested fields is valued for its nutrients. It also helps control soil erosion and retains moisture in an area where water tables are declining and rainfall is scarce.
Farmers can take about half of the residue left on irrigated corn, milo and wheat fields for additional income, and still leave enough straw behind to protect the ground, Wilson said.
Abengoa estimates it will pay about 200 area farmers $15 a ton for their crop residue, to be used at its Bioenergy Biomass of Kansas plant. At full capacity, the company expects the plant to process 1,000 tons of biomass a day, or roughly 350,000 biomass bales a year. That will produce up to 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 21 megawatts of electricity.
Wilson said his company plans to pay out $3 million to southwest Kansas farmers in the 100-mile radius of Hugoton, up $1 million from last year.
Halstead farmer Rod Berger said that with just 134 acres of wheat it's not a huge check, although it does give him a little extra cash.
Kansas has 12 ethanol plants that use roughly 183 million bushels of corn and sorghum to produce fuel, according to the Kansas Corn Association.