Fuel Alcohol Field Day for Farmers

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ILLUSTRATION: BEBOY/FOTOLIA
The Iowa Corn Promotion Board and the Iowa Development Commission sponsored Farm Alcohol Field Day to educate farmers about small-scale production of fuel alcohol.

Last July–in a huge, dirt-floored exhibition hall
where some of the finest show cattle in the nation are
generally put on display–1,500 Iowa farmers got
together for a different kind of show. The
occasion was the first Farm Alcohol Field Day, jointly
sponsored by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) and the
Iowa Development Commission with the cooperation of the
U.S. Department of Energy. It was one of the first
opportunities for experts in the “art and science” of
producing fuel alcohol in small, farm-scale
plants to gather in one place so that the farmers
(who’ll be the ones to build and operate such
installations) could get at them.

Now it takes more than fancy theories and “pie-in-the-sky”
fantasies to get a passel of hard-workin’ sodbusters to
spend a summer Saturday listenin’ to speeches, especially
when the jaw-bonin’ takes place in a sizzling hot glorified
cow barn! So when the professional “men of the soil” jammed
into the State Fairgrounds Livestock Exhibition Hall in Des
Moines, Iowa to listen to the experts discuss on-farm
alcohol fuel production, you can bet the farmers were
bankin’ on hearing some worthwhile information.

“Iowa farmers have decided that they’re not going to wait
for the day when their tractors sit idle for lack of fuel,”
explained Thurman Gaskill, ICPB chairman. “They’re looking
for energy alternatives,” he continued, “and many have
expressed a desire to learn about producing alcohol on
their farms as a means of stretching their fuel supplies.”
Gaskill (and who could make up a better name for someone
involved in the fight against petroleum dependence?) went
on to say, “Farmers want to know how to construct an
alcohol still, what’s involved in maintaining such
equipment, what the cost factors of distillation are, and
what permits must be obtained.” He might have added that
Iowa’s corn growers (and the ICPB) are interested in
alcohol fuel for another reason, as well:

It would provide the perfect additional market in which to
sell the estimated 1.8 billon bushels of
“carryover,” or surplus, corn which is produced in the
United States each year.

Speakers at the Field Day included Iowa Congressman Berkley
Bedell (one of Washington’s strongest alcohol backers) and
Department of Energy representative Bill Holmberg. As the
director of DOE’s Citizen Participation Division, Holmberg
is particularly interested in ensuring that federal
financing and incentives for alcohol production be made
available to small farmers and cooperatives, as well as to
large corporations.

On hand to demonstrate the feasibility of on-farm
distillation for the individual farmer were Alan and Diane
Zeithamer of Alexandria, Minnesota. As bona fide working
farmers–talkin’ sense to an audience of their fellow
agriculturists–the Zeithamers were the hit of the
fair. (See “The Zeithamer Family: Alcohol Fuel at Work,” for more information on
the energy self-sufficiency of these progressive farm
folk.)

In a way, the Field Day’s only problem was its success.
That’s right! Strange as it may seem, so many
interested potential distillers showed up at the
Fairgrounds extravaganza that the kind of one-on-one,
farmer-to-expert discussion which had been planned just
wasn’t possible.

But, problems or not, the show was a roarin’ success. After
all, what could be more important than getting some 1,500
farmers together and letting ’em know that the farm-based
production of fuel is not a pipe dream?

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