The first ag equipment dealership catering to the biomass market opened last month just down the road from ethanol producer Poet, whose Project Liberty facility will produce cellulosic ethanol from corncobs.

Woodford Equipment is owned by Eric and Mary Woodford, who sold their Redwood Falls, MN, cornstalk custom harvesting business and farm to relocate to Emmetsburg, IA. They'll be selling Vermeer's 605 Super M Cornstalk Special round baler, as well as its CCX770 cob harvester and related harvesting equipment, parts and service.

“The main reason we moved here is Project Liberty,” says Eric Woodford, who, for the past 15 years harvested upwards of 20,000 cornstalk bales per year. He also invented the powered windguard that makes the Vermeer baler sturdy enough to harvest cornstalks with few breakdowns. (See our February 2009 story, “Cornstalk Baler: First Of Its Kind,” or go online to bit.ly/cuIemC.)

“Poet changed its preferred method of collection to second-pass baling,” a switch from last year's utilization of Vermeer's wagon-style cob harvester that runs behind a combine, Woodford says.

“Going to the round baler allows more farmers to participate,” in providing corncobs to Project Liberty, he adds.

Farmers are comfortable with baling, agrees Eric Bruhn, Poet's biomass coordinator. “After a lot of conversations with farmers in the area, it became clear that baling was going to be the preferred choice, and we want to accommodate that.”

Baling offers additional tonnage, adds Jay Van Roekel, Vermeer segment manager.

“Harvested cobs,” he says, “only produce around 0.6-0.7 dry ton/acre in this area of 200-bu corn, and if it goes to a second-pass baling process, it bumps that up to about 1 dry ton/acre. So Poet gets more yield per acre, and Vermeer has provided cob harvesting and second-pass baling equipment.”

Only about 10 balers have been sold in the surrounding five-county area in the last five years, says Van Roekel. “We were in kind of a hole as far as Vermeer dealerships go. But as baling is becoming a process to harvest cobs, then we recognized we needed a local dealership to serve this new market.”

Bruhn says 56,500 tons have been contracted for harvest to supply the facility's first year of production and at least 150,000 tons are expected for fall 2011.

The dedicated cob harvester only collects clean cobs that can be used for ethanol or other uses, including feed or bedding, Woodford says. “But a round baler can bale a multitude of products. People who are growing hay now can utilize their balers in the fall by harvesting second-pass cobs.”

But Poet is pretty specific in how it wants its bales produced, he warns. Combines equipped with stalk stompers on corn heads push stalks over so balers that travel in the same direction can neatly pick up just what is left in windrows.

“Poet wants a high content of cobs in the bale, and the stalks don't make as much cellulosic ethanol as cobs do,” Woodford explains.

The dealership boasts other equipment that can be used to help harvest biomass — Morris Industries' bale movers, Rolin Manufacturing's bale accumulator, Koyker's round bale transporters and McCormick's tractors, for example.

“I think I have the best that ag has to offer. With my 15 years of baling experience, I've done enough research where I know what equipment is best-suited for moving corncob bales,” Woodford says.

“He comes to this area second to none as far as knowledge of cornstalk and cob harvest, the equipment side of it, the actual experience of harvesting and, since he used to be a customer, Eric understands a customer's expectation during harvest,” says Van Roekel.

The dealership's Web site is woodfordequipment.com; its phone number is 712-852-3003.