Weaver said home-grown fuel could eventually cut irrigation costs for producers, depending on their level of involvement.

“The farmer usually has to pay for everything four times over in the retail market. If we can make our own fuel to irrigate our own crops, you can’t get much better than that. It’s nothing but a plus-plus to help us cut our dependence on foreign oil. The model also fits well with this model of going green.”

Weaver found out about the project as a board member of the United Sorghum Checkoff Program. In addition to the ethanol-powered irrigation project, the sorghum producer also planted several acres of sweet sorghum this year for research purposes.

Randy Powell, sugar crop program manager for BioDimensions, says the juice extraction experiment on German’s farm in Whiteville “is to demonstrate the mechanized models, the high-volume commercial factories.

“There are people working on smaller models, mounting mills on old cotton pickers, but we’re trying to work this out on a true commercial scale, where you’d produce fuel to sell to the major oil companies.”

According to Brad Holden, marketing director for AmeriFuels, based in Kearney, Neb., the modified ethanol-fueled irrigation engine required special fueling components, such as injectors and fuel pumps, and new programming of the computer that controls the system.

Holden says around 100 AmeriFuels ethanol engines are currently operating in the United States, most of them in the Midwest. The engine design is three years old.

“We’re trying to produce a closed loop system, where we’re producing the energy we use to grow our crops, and we’re not dependent on foreign oil,” Holden says.

“It’s a message that people know, but it’s probably not been applied to the industrial side as it has the automotive area. We use a ton of fuel on the industrial side, and it’s been a little overlooked.”

According to BioDimensions, Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi and southeast Missouri consume an estimated 114 million gallons per year of fossil fuels (mostly diesel) to power irrigation engines.

Nelson said sweet sorghum, “represents a substantial opportunity to replace fossil fuels with renewable biofuels produced from sugar crop feed stocks grown and processed in the region.”

Currently ethanol is priced lower than diesel, which could provide a cost advantage for producers as well.

This project is coordinated by BioDimensions in partnership with AmeriFuels Renewable Energy, Weaver Farms, German Farms, Mid-South Community College and Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The Sweet Sorghum project is supported by a grant from the United Sorghum Checkoff Program.

erobinson@farmpress.com