Agri-waste fuels greenhouse
By John Weiss
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
ALTURA — In the recent heat, Eric Kreidermacher could feel his big greenhouse getting warmer and warmer in next winter’s cold.
He and his family own Pork & Plants between Elba and Altura. They began a few decades ago raising hogs and have switched now to mostly raising about 600 kinds of flowers and other plants. It’s a large greenhouse and nursery that attracts people from many miles away.
How the greenhouse is now heated attracted the attention of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, which gave the business its statewide award of ag innovator of the year for using local ag wastes for fuel.
The family is also looking at native prairie grasses to heat the greenhouse. They are doing much of their own research, trying to find ways they can save money, control erosion and use land that’s not good for traditional crops to grow fuel.
Kreidermacher said the family began doing it because the price of conventional fuels was $150,000 to $200,000 a year. "It was not an option," he said.
About six years ago, he and his brother Paul Kreidermacher created another company, Alternative Energy Solutions, to sell a boiler that can use just about any grass, corn or ag waste. They use that boiler at Pork & Plants. They found shelled corn from 150 to 200 acres was enough for their needs.
When the price of corn began to rise, that hurt. So they started using waste from corn they grow or get from other farms as well as wood waste from mills and screenings from grain elevators. Burning wood from nearby woods wouldn’t work because it’s too moist and would need drying with non-renewable fuels, he said. The waste is turned into pellets that are the fuel for winter.
Corn waste, however, is not the final answer because corn prices vary and growing corn on some of the blufflands isn’t good for the land, Eric Kreidermacher said. Ultimately he would like to see some of the marginal cropland in the blufflands turned back into native prairie that would grow the fuel he needs. The family has 20 acres in five plots of land growing grasses.
Grasses are much better on the erodable land because they slow or stop erosion instead of contributing to it like corn or soybeans, he said.
The problem now is which of the many kinds of grasses to grow. The best ones for wildlife are well researched, but little has been done on fuels, he said. He would like to see more state or federal research dollars go into that. When they find the right mix, there should be a state or federal program to encourage landowners to grow the grasses because they provide all the conservation benefits, he said. "They need to put their money where their mouth is," he said.
Right now, the Kreidermachers are putting up their own money to grow their own fuel for the winter and the future.