It may look like an unlikely cash crop, but 3,000 newly planted acres of miscanthus giganteus in southwest Missouri has a market waiting for it.
This perennial warm-season grass can grow to 15 feet, is drought and pest tolerant, requires little or no fertilizer and grows on marginal land. It’s not a nutritional grass for grazing or hay but once baled or combined can be processed into pellets and burned as a fuel by power plants or to heat commercial facilities. In the next 10 years, as many as 50,000 acres may be planted in miscanthus in southwest Missouri as part of a biomass project developed by MFA Oil Biomass and its partner Aloterra Energy.
Rusty Mulford, a poultry producer for Tyson Foods, is one of 48 farmers in half a dozen counties west and south of Springfield, Mo., who have planted miscanthus in plots as small as 8 acres.  He took advantage of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program to pay 75 percent of the cost of planting the miscanthus rhizomes on 86 acres this spring.  A member of MFA, a farmer-owned cooperative, Mulford will harvest the crop, likely 10-15 tons per acre, in late 2013 and sell it at $55 a ton to MFA Oil Biomass, which operates a processing plant in Aurora, Mo. The plant, which opened last fall, can process waste wood or miscanthus into pellets the company sells to farmers like Mulford for heating their poultry barns or to utilities for mixing with coal.
At 8,000 BTUs per pound, miscanthus produces about the same amount of heat as wood. Rusty has used wood pellets for heating his barns, but wood is scarce and takes too long to grow. His traditional heating fuel has been propane, whose price fluctuates dramatically. This past winter, Mulford used miscanthus pellets to replace as much as 78 percent of the propane he typically would use.
“It’s hard to build a business plan around propane,” he said. Burning his own processed miscanthus should stabilize Mulford’s heating costs. It will take about 2 acres of miscanthus to heat one of his six poultry barns for a full year. He also hopes miscanthus straight from the field may replace sawdust, which is pricey, for poultry bedding.
Clearly, Mulford has had to put some of his own money into planting, maintaining a buffer around the miscanthus and buying a pellet stove, but he likes the idea of being more energy independent. “I got involved in the project because of the strength of the MFA cooperative. As a farmer, I know that no matter how great a project sounds, it doesn’t matter if you can’t make a profit,” he said. “This was a business decision to reduce my heating costs and to possibly grow my own bedding.”
Want to grow miscanthus like Mulford? MFA Oil Biomass’ Dustin Dover at 417-678-1133 will answer your questions.   


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here