Bioenergy and the Great State of Nebraska

Ali Lenger
Newsletter Issue: 
June 2015

Nebraska’s largest agricultural events of this year, besides planting and harvesting, are Husker Harvest Days and the Nebraska State Fair. CenUSA Bioenergy will be flying its flag at both.

Over a 100,000 people attend Husker Harvest Days each year, and that number is still growing. Husker Harvest Days, recognized as the world’s largest totally irrigated working farm show, will be held September 15 through the 17 in Grand Island, Nebraska. The Nebraska State Fair will be held at its’ fairgrounds in Grand Island August 28 through September 7.

“Husker Harvest Days is like the state fair of farming and ranching,” said Amy Kohmetscher, an instructional Development Specialist at CenUSA. “Different booths feature farming demonstrations with various equipment including both cutting edge and antique machinery. Educational booths cover various topics related to farming and ranching.”

Farmers and ranchers from 28 states and several countries attend the Husker Harvest Days each year. During the event, CenUSA will reach out to “producers, people in the agricultural industry, and crop consultants,” said Jill Euken, CenUSA Outreach and Extension Project Director and Deputy Director for the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University. If CenUSA can show crop consultants and other technical advisors, that growing switchgrass is valuable, they in turn can help disseminate the information to their farmer clients on a large scale.

The exhibit at the Husker Harvest Days will feature field plots of two types of switchgrass, ‘Liberty’ and ‘Shawnee’. ‘Liberty’ switchgrass, the first true bioenergy grass in the Midwest, produces nearly two times higher yields than traditional varieties. It was developed over nearly two decades by researchers stationed at the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the University of Nebraska, with support by CenUSA.

The field plots should be interesting to producers. “We want to expose them to the idea that growing biomass crop on separate acres could work in Nebraska,” said John Hay, a member of the CenUSA Outreach and Extension team and an Associate Extension Educator of Biological Systems Engineering at UNL. “When and if a company proposes Nebraska for some kind of biomass facility, then we will be more prepared to produce biomass for such a facility,” said Hay. “This is something we can do.”

As for the Nebraska State Fair, CenUSA will create an exhibit called “Raising Nebraska”, a one of a kind educational experience featuring a plot in the shape of Nebraska. The CenUSA exhibit, booth indoors and outdoors, will act as an interactive, self-guided tour through CenUSA’s research on biofuels and switchgrass.

“The rivers will be the paths as you walk through the exhibit. They will grow all the different commodities associated with crop production in Nebraska,” said Keith Glewen, a member of the CenUSA Extension team and a University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) Extension Educator.

Illustrated map showing various geographical features of Nebraska
Above: Map of what the “Raising Nebraska” exhibit will look like at the Nebraska State Fair.
Photo Credit: Keith Glewen. May 20, 2015.

Most economists anticipate growing bioenergy crops on marginal land, land that is either unproductive or ecologically unsuitable for growing row crops. The team grew switchgrass on a non-irrigated corner of a center pivot irrigated field and also on a highly erodible field and the results were excellent. According to Glewen, “Many of the irrigation systems cannot water corners, and we have rectangular fields with corners that go unirrigated.”

Husker Harvest Days and the Nebraska State Fair will be great opportunities for the public to learn more about CenUSA’s research. With tens of thousands of visitors and the latest and greatest agricultural booths and technology displays, CenUSA is proud to be able to take part and encourage sustainable bioenergy cropping systems.