This week’s guest commentary comes from Don McCabe, Vice President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture:
With a mandate to enable prosperous and sustainable farms, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) continues cultivating new markets and opportunities for Ontario farmers and farm products. That’s why we’re working to build a bioeconomy industry in our province.
The bioeconomy is the economic activity resulting from the production of renewable resources and converting them into feed, fuel, bioenergy and other bio-based products. The OFA is working diligently with industry partners and farmers to create a healthy bioeconomy that includes processing plants and advanced technologies that can add important links to our expanding value chain. One goal is to attract and build bioprocessing plants in Ontario to process biomass such as corn stalks and wheat straw residue into cellulosic sugar.
Cellulosic sugar is another source of sugar from the farm that can be used to produce products including fuels and chemicals. Through extensive market development research and consulting Ontario farmers, the OFA knows there’s a lot of interest in our province to create markets for our biomass products.
This fall, nearly 1,000 Ontario farmers took part in two cornstalk harvesting demonstrations in southwestern Ontario. The interest in cutting and baling corn stalks, or corn stover was encouraging. The demonstrations, hosted by the OFA and numerous farmers, included the latest equipment for chopping, baling and stacking corn stover. Impressive results of a recent report from Iowa farmers currently producing bales of corn stover for cellulosic sugar production were shared with participants.
Corn stover, traditionally used for livestock bedding and cattle feed, has huge potential in Ontario for large scale harvesting. Corn stalks are composed of 47% sugar. Increased corn yields in recent years have improved the amount of stover remaining after the grain is harvested. The ratio of grain corn production to corn stover is 1:1. That means one tonne of harvested grain corn will leave one tonne of corn stover. With that kind of yield, and a sustainable harvest protocol to ensure enough residue is left for the soil’s needs, Ontario farmers are potentially leaving a lot of money in the field. Iowa farmers reported net profits of $36 per acre from corn stover sales for cellulosic ethanol production.
New market development opportunities are always welcome in Ontario’s agri-food industry. There’s huge potential for an Ontario biomass processing industry, and the resulting economic spin offs and jobs. We’ve got farmers ready and waiting to provide the feedstock. Now, we just need the processors and technology to extend the value chain. The OFA is working closely with industry, partnering to host events like the demonstrations this fall and appealing to all levels of government to assist in drawing processing companies to our rural neighbourhoods. Ontario is poised for a bioeconomy boom and agriculture is the cornerstone.