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Traveling biodiesel processor making home grown fuel

Hemp Mill
Hemp Mill

With fuel costs rising and our job market not looking so hot, we need to do everything we can to move away from petroleum based fuels.  We recently reported on The Fairwater Hemp Company making “home grown” electricity by burning the hurds of the hemp plant, back in 1917.  Fairwater, located in Fond du Lac County is home to a rich history of hemp cannabis.   Remnants and the smoke stack from the old hemp mill can still be found.  On your journey up to these landmarks, notice the feral hemp growing along roadside and ditches.

Another news article a little more recent than 1917 caught my attention this morning.  The title initially caught my eye, “Traveling biodiesel processor boosts self-sufficiency of local farms.” After reading the article, since it had both a Wisconsin and hemp cannabis twist, I thought it appropriate to document it for you here also.

Green Fuels Now
Green Fuels Now

Wisconsin is already home to many co-operatives, and adding a traveling biodiesel processor to the mix could enhance our farming communities in many ways.  The private sector is just waiting for jobs, could home grown fuel help energize our economy and job market?  I think it would certainly help.

Article by Liz Lawyer reported on Ithacajournal.com on September 29th, 2010.

Traveling biodiesel processor boots self-sufficiency of local farms.

Lansing —- The 800 gallons of biodiesel Chuck and Andra Benson pressed from their canola seeds this week won’t last long on their dairy farm, which consumes about 10,000 gallons of fuel a year.

But the Bensons believe that’s a small price to pay for the degree of self-sufficiency that processing their own fuel provides.

The Bensons’ Bensvue Farm is part of the Organic Valley Cooperative, which owns a traveling oil press and biodiesel processor that make rounds throughout the country in a trailer driven by Jake Wedeberg, a sustainability coordinator for the co-op. Wedeberg visits farms to press oil from seeds and then process the oil into biodiesel.

Chuck Benson said it now takes only about 16 of their 1,000 acres to grow the fuel that powers all of the machinery on the 600-cow farm.

“It’s amazing to me,” Chuck Benson said. “Back in the horsepower days, a certain amount of acreage had to be set aside to grow food for the work units.”

Wedeberg said the co-op, based in Wisconsin, has only offered the processor as a service to its members for two years. Last year, they began with six participating farms. This year there are 16 and he’s not aware of other farming co-ops with a similar service.

“It makes total sense,” Wedeberg said. “It makes farms more self-sufficient, with one less check to write at the end of the month.”

Oil can be extracted from a range of crops, including soybeans, sunflowers, hemp and pumpkin seeds.

Ed Scheffler, a dairy farmer at Ed and Eileen Scheffler Farm in Groton, said he is also experimenting with the processor for the first time this year with five acres of sunflowers.

“We’re just looking at it from a sustainability standpoint,” he said. “If we can grow a little bit of our own fuel, we’ll be sequestering carbon out of the air … and putting carbon back into the soil with the crop residue.”

Besides, he points out, traditional fuel is not likely to get any cheaper.

“It appears to be really efficient,” besides only costing about $1 per gallon to process, Andra Benson said. “And you get two useful byproducts.”

Besides the biodiesel, the process yields protein meal that can be fed to dairy cows and glycerin, which can be sold, used to make soap or burned in a waste oil furnace.

Chuck Benson said he’d like to continue to pursue growing oil crops. But being totally self-sufficient in their fuel needs may be a few years away; in order to provide for all of the farm’s needs, they would have to grow 100 acres of canola, he said.

“We think it’s amazing,” Andra Benson said. “Organic Valley wants to promote using biofuels, so they started providing this service to encourage it. Most farms are small and don’t grow acres and acres. It’s hard to find someone willing to press it.”

But once the growing, harvesting and the three-day pressing process are done, all the products remain on the farm.

“We’re using it now as we speak,” Chuck Benson said.

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