By Dan Burden, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reviewed June 2012.
Electricity generation from renewable biomass fuels is becoming a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels. The drawbacks of many biomass fuels such as wood chips or sawdust have been the proximity to the power plant and the long-term availability of the fuel supply. Some researchers and growers believe that a dedicated feedstock supply system using hay would guarantee a consistent, long-term fuel supply.
Most proposed feedstock supply systems incorporate some processing. During this processing, the hay would be fractionated into stem material for conversion to electricity. The high-quality leaf meal would be processed into pellets, or "pelletized," and sold as a livestock protein supplement or animal feed. Other proposed types of processing include fermentation and technologies that use biodigesters and similar systems.
In a recent study, University of Georgia researchers concluded that using hay as a green biomass is cheaper than natural gas or petroleum but more expensive than coal. During a presentation at the 2008 National Alfalfa Symposium, a USDA scientist described the potential benefits of using alfalfa stems as a biomass alternative for cellulosic ethanol plants. Two studies, one at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and the other at the University of Kentucky (UK), are currently underway. The UNI study will evaluate what mixes of prairie hay are best for turning into biomass to generate electricity. The UK study will consider production and marketing issues associated with hay.
- Alfalfa: biofuel and feed, Proceedings of 2008 Idaho Alfalfa and Forage Conference, Burley, Idaho, 2008.
- Alfalfa Biomass, Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, 2002 - An overview of the concept and practical applications.
- Alfalfa Dehydration Feasibility Template, Oklahoma State University, 2004 - This template is designed to assess the feasibility of a typical alfalfa dehydration operation.
- Alfalfa Offers Many Advantages As Biomass Crop, Hay and Forage Grower, 2007.
- American Pet Diner, Eureka, Nevada - The Marshall family runs a successful business marketing hay products for pets from the hay they produce.
- Dairy Demand Pushes Market for Organic Hay in Upper Midwest, Rodale Institute, 2006.
- Dakota Premium Hay, Yankton, South Dakota - This business was started by stockholders and local farmers who collectively package and sell hay for horses to feed stores on the East coast. They received a Value-Added Producer Grant from the USDA in 2003.
- Dakotans Turn To Hay Processing, Hay and Forage Grower, 2003 - This farmer-based operation manufactures minibales for the equine market.
- The Economic Feasibility of Using Georgia Biomass for Electrical Energy Production, University of Georgia, 2007 - This report evaluates the economic feasibility of using pyrolysis and gasification as methods for producing energy from such biomass resources as excess hay, wheat straw and rye straw. Tables provide comparisons of the hay's and straws' characteristics and delivered costs.
- Examples of unique forage marketing ideas from various producers across the country.
- Feed Year in Review (Domestic): Record Demand Drives U.S. Feed Grain Prices Higher in 2007/08, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
- Hay, The New American Farmer, Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education (SARE), USDA.
- Hay Crop Enterprise Budgets & Economics, Center for Dairy Profitability, University of Wisconsin - This link includes a budget for alfalfa establishment as well as a hay price calculator.
- Hay Exchange - Internet-based hay exchange with list for sale, wanted to buy and equipment.
- Hay Net, Farm Service Agency, USDA - This Internet-based service allows farmers and ranchers to share 'Need Hay' ads and 'Have Hay' ads online.
- National Alfalfa and Forage Alliance - Nonprofit organization for growers, conditioners, distributors and customers.
- National Hay Association - Membership association for the hay industry.
- Ohio Enterprise Budgets, Ohio State University Extension - Alfalfa hay and grass hay production budgets are available from 2011.
- Organic Hay Production Budgets, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service, 1996.
- Switchgrass Pelletized for Biomass as part of UK Research Project, University of Kentucky, 2010.
- Tallgrass Prairie Center to study polyculture prairie hay for bio-electricity: combining conservation and restoration with bioenergy, Biopact, 2007.
Links checked August 2013.