Fielding Stover Logistics

AGCO Corp.’s latest large-scale crop residue endeavor is utilizing and adding to the company’s well-established harvesting knowledge base.
By Anna Simet | July 10, 2017

For quite some time, cellulosic ethanol has been the end use of focus when it comes to corn stover. As result of new U.S. corn production records being set each year—up to 15.2 billion bushels-plus in 2016 from 13.8 billion in 2013—the volume of leaves, stalks, and husks left in the field post-harvest is also at an all-time high, thus creating even more of a need to remove some of it.

Especially in continuous-corn regions, stover is creating an extra revenue stream for farmers who are selling it for other uses. For some corn farmers in the York, Nebraska, area, that opportunity is being provided by Pellet Technology USA. At the beginning of 2017, Pellet Technology brought online a $30 million plant that takes in corn stover purchased from area farmers, and, through a propriety process, pelletizes the stover to be marketed as feed and fuel products.  And not only is it putting cash back in farmers’ pockets, aside from a few large operations that opted to harvest the stover themselves, it’s alleviating them of the task.

Realizing their expertise was in the pelleting process and not in the field, Pellet Technology initially began investigating what the feedstock harvest, collection and transportation model would have to look like—baling and hauling 90,000 tons of corn stover is no minute task—and professional industry contacts referred them to AGCO Corp. “They were made aware of our experience through our work in cellulosic ethanol, and they reached out to us,” says Glenn Farris, AGCO director of strategic segment solutions. “We’d begun talking to Caterpillar about teaming up with them and their Job Site Solutions Group, so they ended up becoming the supplier for Pellet Technology, and we became the contractor.” 

For Pellet Technology's feedstock collection program, AGCO has taken the logistics reins and now heads up the harvesting, baling, stacking and delivery of the corn stover bales to the pellet plant. The first harvest was last fall, and AGCO will be back in the fields this year as part its contract with Pellet Technology. “In a nutshell, Pellet Technology has relationships with farmers in and around York, contracts with them that allow AGCO to harvest and remove stover off their property,” Farris explains. “Once the grain is harvested, the farmer informs them the field is ready, and then we remove it within a certain window.”

From there, AGCO takes charge. “We cut and windrow the corn stover with a flail shredder, then we use our large square bailers to bale the material in the windrows, and we contracted with Stinger Ltd., which has self-propelled bale stackers that stack the bales at the field edge. At that point, the trucking company we hired comes in to deconstruct and load the bales on a trailer behind a tractor rig and haul them to the plant.”

That work isn’t as simple as it sounds—in 2016, AGCO worked with over 66 farmers, covering some 40,000 acres across more than 300 fields to harvest nearly 93,000 tons of corn stover. This stover was processed into 143,800 bales and required 3,852 truck deliveries to Pellet Technology’s facility, work that was completed by a fleet of 25 high- horsepower tractors, 12 large square balers, 12 shredders, six self-propelled (Stinger) stackers, and nine tractor trailer rigs.

Though the end use of the stover is different than AGCO’s previous endeavors, Farris says the efforts are the same. “We’re taking on more responsibility than we have in the past by providing all of the services, but what’s going on is more or less identical to the ethanol projects,” he says.

Now, AGCO is gearing up for another harvest, and will draw on last year’s experience to maximize overall efficiency of the logistics operations. But, as Farris says, there’s still knowledge to gain. “Despite the fact that we have this vast experience, we still learned a lot this year, and a lot of it was surrounding equipment performance and how to maximize it, and how to minimize downtime and maintenance costs,” he adds. “We’re always learning something we didn’t know, and I think that puts us in a pretty good position, because we already had a lot of experience, and we continue to add to that every harvest.”

Author: Anna Simet
Managing Editor, Biomass Magazine