John Atkinson is curious about biomass. Atkinson, of Trails End Farm, Kingdom City, MO, currently produces 7,000-9,000 small square bromegrass bales with his wife, Mary Lou, on 100 acres. They sell the brome largely to horse owners.

But they have another 40 acres that John envisions as being dedicated to growing a tall grass for biomass. "Biomass is an avenue to watch closely. In fact, I'm thinking about buying a round baler this year so I can quickly get into the market.

"There's nobody in Missouri with a biomass plant, but there are a lot of corn ethanol plants. So the question will be, can they alter their process to convert from corn to biomass or do both?" he says.

The Atkinsons sell most of their product out of the field. "Most of my customers bring their trailers, leave them in the field and I load them. When they come back that night, they'll be ready to go. I just handle it once with a grab and an accumulator."

They don't plan to expand their brome business. "We're doing good to be able to square bale all of the brome before it gets dry and stemmy. And when that starts to happen, I just stop baling square bales and round bale the rest. The worst thing you can do as a producer is sell poor-quality hay. I guarantee every bale I sell and will replace them."

Marketing-wise, the Atkinsons send out calendars to customers with their name and contact information on them. Leftover ones go to feed stores to hand out. The first of April, customers get letters from them predicting hay production, quality and prices.

"I did increase prices a year ago because of an increase in the price of fertilizer and fuel, so I'm going to hold them steady this year. I can understand growers saying 'I'm going to sell at whatever the going price is.' But I don't think people will be anxious to come back the next year. I'd rather charge a fair, decent price for hay year after year that they can count on."

To reach the Atkinsons, call 573-592-7239