Ceres survey results indicate growers are ready

By Anna Austin | November 23, 2010

Energy crop developer Ceres Inc. has released results of a survey that indicate most growers are ready to produce biomass for biopower and advanced biofuels, and have the land to do so.

The survey, conducted by Ceres, was completed this summer and was weighted toward growers in the Southeast U.S. It showed that 71 percent of respondents were interested or very interested in growing dedicated energy crops, and 77 percent have underutilized land on which to establish several energy crops including miscanthus, switchgrass and sorghum.

The consensus among agricultural producers was that diversifying current operations was the most appealing benefit of energy grasses, and that making better use of marginal land while spending less time, money and resources on crop management were also attractive components.

Gary Koppenjan, Ceres corporate communication manager, said it was somewhat surprising that growers showed little interested in owning a piece of a bioenergy facility, and were more interested in incentives for quality and inflation adjustments, or prices linked to energy prices, concepts which Ceres expects to explore in future surveys.

On the end-user side, Ceres reported that growers were solidly supportive of long-term contracts with customers, as over 70 percent were very interested or interested in growing under contract and 48 percent said they would anticipate putting at least half their acreage in long-term contracts. "This is one of the areas where we were interested in learning more about, since reliable feedstock supplies will be critical for new bioenergy facilities to obtain project financing," Koppenjan said. "What constitutes a long-term contract will likely be an area for discussion, but it appears the suppliers and users are on the same page."

Ceres believes that grower enthusiasm for homegrown bioenergy reflected in the survey is being tempered by the slow implementation of U.S. DOE loan guarantees. "There's a lot of frustration with the delays in getting the guarantees implemented," said Frank Hardimon, Ceres seed sales director. "If we could get the first several cellulosic biorefineries built, the U.S. would be well on its way to greater energy security and lower emissions, as well as lasting job growth, especially in rural communities."

Koppenjan said the survey’s results were consistent with feedback that Ceres has received at grower meetings, conferences and farm shows.