Commercial Corner: Vermeer Corporation – Global Innovator

Charlie O'Brian
Newsletter Issue: 
June 2014

Equipment taking in plant material and processing it into the back of a truck

Above: Vermeer manufactures specialized equipment for processing agriculture and forestry residue.

In 1948, the Vermeer Corporation built a mechanical hoist to allow faster and easier unloading of grain wagons. Over the years, the company has gained the reputation of being a forward thinker in the agriculture industry and is now a world leader in the manufacturing of agricultural and industrial equipment. Its innovative equipment is used in every step of the biomass feedstock supply chain. Recently CenUSA has partnered with Vermeer to showcase high yielding perennial grasses grown for energy. “We are very unique in terms of forage harvesting and biomass processing, and the entire logistics process,” said Jason Andringa, Vermeer’s President of Forage and Environmental Studies.

Andringa said that Vermeer realized their potential to play an effective role in the biofuels industry during a 2006 State of the Union address by President George W. Bush. In his speech, President Bush stated that in the future liquid fuels would need to come from biomass materials like switchgrass and wood chips. Since then, Vermeer has merged its forage and grinding manufacturing divisions to create a Forage and Environmental Studies Division. Vermeer’s biomass grinding equipment, started ten-years-ago to process biomass and wood chips, can also be used in the processing of corncobs, stover, perennial grasses and other energy crops. “We have worked to make our technologies more versatile and able to be used for biomass applications,” Andringa said. “The expectations for energy have changed so much in the last decade, and we really want to support the development of these energy sources.”

Vermeer also emphasizes the biomass feedstock supply chain in relation to costs. Jay Van Roekel, Vermeer’s Biomass Business Unit Manager and CenUSA Bioenergy advisory board member, has been looking for ways to make the equipment more productive and durable so that biomass can be harvested more efficiently. “We want to reduce costs to our customers, including finding ways to update our current equipment or design new units,” Van Roekel said. “In reducing costs to our customers, we also want to educate them to create the highest quality of feedstock possible.”

In order to help customers understand the capabilities of its equipment, Vermeer and CenUSA planted perennial grass demonstration plots around its manufacturing site in Pella, Iowa. The plots, planted May 7, are adjacent to Vermeer’s Global Pavilion, a 75,000 square foot, world-class training facility. The demonstration plots will be used to train Vermeer equipment dealers.

“The Vermeer plots present opportunities to conduct outreach and education for agricultural producers, leaders of agricultural and conservation organizations and youth groups,” says Jill Euken, leader of CenUSA Extension programming. “We will be hosting field days at the Vermeer plots to help people learn best practices for growing and harvesting perennial grasses.”

‘Liberty’ switchgrass, a new USDA ARS release with yields 40% higher than traditional varieties, two cultivars of big bluestem (‘Bonanza’ and ‘Gold Mine’), prairie cordgrass and a perennial native grass mixture will be evaluated for yield and feedstock quality. According to Van Roekel, having the ability to study different biomass sources gives Vermeer the opportunity to help its customers be more successful and at the same time, help the company become a better supplier.

As a manufacturing company that produces machinery that is used in the harvesting, logistics and processing of biomass, Vermeer’s continued improvement of its equipment, alongside the development of biomass feedstocks, is vital for its future.

“The biofuel horizon is hard to predict,“ Andringa said. “But there will be a continued development of biomass energy and Vermeer will be there to help in these improvements to better the U.S. and the world.”