Ag manufacturers are finding the move toward biofuels an opportunity to capture new markets.

Early last November, 16 companies, including Agco, Claas, Case IH, Vermeer and John Deere, demonstrated existing, modified and new equipment at a media event sponsored by Poet. Poet is a South Dakota-based energy company using corn refuse to produce cellulosic ethanol.

“We're working with industry leaders, leading universities and others to see if modifications to existing equipment or potentially new equipment will be required to meet the needs of the bioenergy marketplace,” says Dean Acheson, Deere solutions-development manager.

An Agco 3 × 3' big square baler was used to help harvest switchgrass late last November for a start-up pilot biorefinery built by Genera Energy, says Dean Morrell, Agco marketing manager, hay and forage equipment.

Farmers in 10 counties near Vonore, TN, are on contract to produce switchgrass. But they have round balers of various sizes. Morrell saw the opportunity to show Southern farmers how well big square balers work — and teach the energy company and the University of Tennessee how well square bales transport and store.

“You have to match equipment to the area,” he warns. A 3 × 3' rather than a 4 × 4' baler was practical considering the 15- and 30-acre fields being harvested and the winding roads leading to and from them.

Claas can claim experience in providing forage equipment for energy crops, says Bob Armstrong, Claas of America product marketing manager. The Germany-based parent company has modified harvesting machines for European crops used to produce biogas. The cutterdrums for its Jaguar forage harvester, for example, were altered to give a finer length of cut needed for biogas digesters.

“The market at that time was so influenced by this digester that the forage harvester market in Germany increased by 20%,” Armstrong says.

Some energy companies are also interested in a Claas wood-chopping head initially designed for forage harvesters 15 years ago — to be used to harvest everything from trees to sugarcane.

But balers, mowers and other forage equipment will likely receive modifications to be used for harvesting energy crops, too, he adds.

“We're pretty excited about some of the possibilities the future could hold,” Armstrong says.

Claas product specialists are also asked to keep their eyes and ears open when it comes to biofuels. “We are trying to attend more conferences and seminars so we can better understand what the market needs might be when it comes to machinery.

“Agriculture's been perceived as ‘mature,’ and what we provide is plain-and-simple food. Then, boom! It's energy also. That's a pretty big opportunity,” he concludes.