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Dordt College News

Dordt Ag Department awarded grant for bioenergy project

April 16, 2008

An agricultural research project to be conducted by Dordt College’s Agriculture Department, Practical Farmers of Iowa, and Marshalltown Community College has been awarded $138,000 in grant funding from North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE).

“Bioenergy and Diversity from Sustainable Systems and Crops” was among 15 proposals awarded full funding by NCR-SARE, out of 127 projects initially submitted.

The cooperative effort will fund side-by-size field comparisons at the Dordt College Agricultural Stewardship Center (northwest Iowa) and the Midwest Center for Entrepreneurial and diversified Agriculture of Marshalltown Community College (central Iowa). Each crop site will be planted in replicated blocks with either a continuous-corn system or a three-year “gateway to sustainability” rotation of corn, soybeans, and winter/spring small grain/forage with legume underseeding. Student interns at each school (with faculty assistance) will document the environmental impact, energetic, and economics of these systems and communicate results to classmates, farmers, and future farmers (FFA).

The Iowa Energy Center will offer technical expertise to interns, and participate in field days and workshops at which farm-scale bioenergy options will be presented. The two college partner sites were chosen to optimize outreach through field days, accessibility to agriculture students hoping to farm, and public media.

The project intends to demonstrate a basic, practical cropping system that uses a fraction of the energy inputs as continuous corn and provides a net energy output that can be essentially the same while also supporting a diversity of farm enterprises in a sustainable way.

It is intended to bring farmers, scientists, and other community members together to exchange information, acquire skills, and develop solutions for optimizing agricultural economic returns, sustaining environmental quality, and efficiently addressing global and national energy concerns.

In writing the proposal, Derrick Exner of Practical Farmers of Iowa says, “Farmers want and need to know about 1) actions they can take that will make their own farms and communities more energy secure, and 2) how they can participate in bioenergy industries without sacrificing either the farm’s resource base or the range of enterprises that characterize diversified farms.”

This demonstration project will focus on the benefits of sustainable agricultural systems, such as highly positive energy balances and net reduction of atmospheric carbon, to address issues such as global warming and energy independence.

Dr. Chris Goedhart, Agriculture Department chairperson at Dordt College, said the project will also demonstrate currently available and near-term options like on-farm biodiesel processing, on-farm sorghum processing for ethanol, the efficacy of biofuel byproducts as livestock feeds, and looking ahead, a variety of cellulosic crops compatible with sustainable farming systems.

While the field trials are at the core of the proposal, energy-related work in process at Dordt College will be incorporated into the educational outreach. Dr. Ethan Brue and engineering students at the college are currently developing farm-scale equipment for processing sweet sorghum and producing ethanol by fermentation/distillation.

An important aspect of this initiative will be presentations by Dordt ag students to high school FFA and science classes on issues of agricultural sustainability, environmental quality and enterprise diversity through the demonstration of integrated cropping systems for the production of bioenergy.

The Dordt College agriculture program has an enrollment of 70 students from 23 states and three Canadian provinces. For the past three years a departmental representative, Mike Schouten, has annually visited over 20 high school classes in vocational agriculture education in schools throughout South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa. Additionally, the department’s annual biotech ag tour for regional high school science and FFA students draws 150-200 future leaders in agriculture each year.

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