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Cornstalks and Cowpies: South Dakota Can Play Role in Kicking Oil with Biomass

While Mike Rounds fantasizes that the Albertan tar sands oil that Keystone XL would ship to the Gulf of Mexico for export to China somehow secures American energy independence, and while pols and hustlers insist that maybe South Dakota can stick a straw in West River and suck some Bakken oil our way, the Union of Concerned Scientists notes that South Dakota has the resources to cash in on a real, renewable domestic source of energy growing and plopping right in our backyards... or the back forty.

UCS-Top 10 States for Crop Residue Manure Bioenergy 2030

According to a new UCS analysis, by 2030, South Dakota can sustainably produce the ninth-most biomass—crop residues and manure—for renewable energy production. (Add Mike Rounds's speeches on coal and oil, and we boost our rank to seventh.) We're not talking about turning more food into fuel; we can squeeze energy from all that stuff we and the cows leave in the fields without burning one more bean or kernel of corn.

UCS crop residue manure by county 2030
(click to enlarge!)

Why would we want to convert cornstalks and cowpies into energy?

Clean, renewable energy resources for transportation and electricity are an im- portant part of the solution to the climate, economic, environmental, and security challenges posed by our fossil fuel use. Bioenergy—the use of biomass, including plant materials and manure, to produce renewable fuels for transportation and to generate electricity—can provide a sustainable, low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels while enabling communities to benefit from local resources. Bioenergy is one of several elements of a comprehensive climate strategy that can cut projected U.S. oil use in half by 2030, and help put the nation on track to phase out the use of coal in producing electricity [Union of Concerned Scientists, "Turning Agricultural Residues and Manure into Bioenergy," July 2014].

Oh, those darned scientists, trying to get us to use less of a polluting fuel source that will run out. Don't they know that all this talk of conservation and renewability messes up the business model for Mike Rounds's favorite industries?


  1. Douglas Wiken 2014.07.24

    Making hot gas out of Bull Sh** should be a natural connection with politicians.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.07.24

    Yeah! iowa is numero uno for something other than corn,hogs,polluted waterways and wingnut dipsticks named cantaloupe calves King.

  3. Loren 2014.07.24

    It's finally been confirmed, SD is full of B.S.!!

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.24

    Only ninth most, Loren... and notice that it appers to be concentrated around Sioux Falls, with a little extra around Aberdeen and Huron, sites of much EB-5 activity. ;-)

    Iowa—Mike, you could be living in Energy Central for the 21st century!

  5. mike from iowa 2014.07.24

    Can't use all cornstalks and bean stubble for fuel. Trash left after harvest is extremely important to maintaining the soil and building new organic matter for crops for future users. More residue equals less petroleum based fertilizer needed.

  6. mike from iowa 2014.07.24

    Cory,wait until we get Black Hills Energy wind turbines up and running. Funny thing about all turbines I've seen in iowa is they all face NW like there is an excess of wind coming out of South Dakota or something.

  7. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.07.24

    I thought Kansas would make the top 10. Isn't it feedlot central? I'm surprised Wisconsin isn't in it either. They've got more dairy farms per square foot than anyone else. And Illinois is #1? Huh? Minnesota is full o' crapola. Not a shock.

  8. Don Carr 2014.07.25

    My biggest concern with this is how do you responsibly harvest crop residue without scraping all organic material off fields? We're gonna need high organic material content in SD soils if the monoculture persists.

  9. larry kurtz 2014.07.25

    Don: great to read you! Please become a regular!

  10. mike from iowa 2014.07.25

    Okay Deb,put 'em up. You completely insulted the beautiful South of Minnesota by giving Illinois credit for being numero uno and as a native South of Minnesotan,I find that particularly galling when everyone knows iowa is full of it. Take it back or else I'll be forced to go back to Minnesota and find some GBX-Grain Belt X-Tra strong beer and get my liquid courage up and whop you one.(not) :))

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.07.25

    Don, I think the UCS addresses that sustainability concern. While they don't go into a lot of detail on the policies and practices underlying their assumptions, the UCS reprot discussed here mentions that farmers "can use no-till farming and plant cover crops to reduce soil erosion and water pollution. In so doing, they can boost agricultural productivity while expanding the amount of residues available for bioenergy even beyond our estimates (Wiggins et al. 2012)."

    UCS offers a 2013 report outlining in more detail their vision of healthy farm practices, including cover crops, a landscape approach, crop diversity and rotation, crop–livestock integration, and cover crops.

  12. mike from iowa 2014.07.25

    Cory,we cut cornstalks for cattle bedding every fall and used them and grass hay for bedding. The next fall we would haul all those stalks and manure out onto the fields and cover it for the winter to stop the escape of nitrogen and other nutrients into the air and water and we still needed petrol based fertilizer to grow the next crop. But we kept the soil/nutrient building organic matter where it was most needed. I don't remember ever selling a bale of cornstalks to anyone. You can't remove the organic material every year and expect to keep the soil going. Just saying.

  13. Don Carr 2014.07.25

    Larry -- you guys will prolly get sick of me in the coming months but thanks. Cory's built a great blog here.

    Cory -- Yeah, to build on what Mike is saying, when there's a viable market for matter/stover what's the mechanism to ensure the proper amount stays on the field? Why would a farmer not make as much as possible from their crop? Same thinking that got us in trouble with corn ethanol. The law of unintended consequences blah blah blah.

  14. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.07.25

    Ohhhhh Mike . . . . . .

    Which state really is full of the most crapola? I sense a need for a poll. Perfectly scientific, of course.

    I think I haven't been in the crappiest state yet. I say it's not WA, MN, NM, Illinois, WI, MI, UT, MT, WY, CO, IN, ML, ND, KS, NE or GA. Or even Iowa!

    Maybe MO? AR? OK? AZ?

    I'm leaning towards Arizona. Jan Brewer, that morally challenged sheriff, chain gangs, etc.

    Where does SD fit? I'll leave that up to current residents.

    These are the state's I've been in, however briefly.

  15. jerry 2014.07.26

    We have something more valuable than all the oil in the Bakken, more than all the coal in Wyoming. We have water and soon, those states south of us and west of us are gonna be wanting it again.

    The old ETSI slurry water line will come back so we can ship coal to Texas, nod nod wink wink. That almost happened and as easy as it was to think about the Keystone for them, imagine this

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