Machinery and Equipment Guide

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Machinery and equipment required for biomass sorghum production will vary depending on the operator’s production system preferences. The following discussion describes basic machinery and equipment needs for producing biomass sorghum, and it approximates costs incurred from operating machinery used in the production process.

Machinery and Equipment Needs

Producing biomass sorghum involves commonly used equipment. To produce biomass sorghum, producers may adopt no-tillage, strip tillage, conservation tillage or conventional tillage practices. Factors that influence the tillage model selection are location, field condition and access to equipment. The table below lists equipment that growers may need to produce biomass sorghum in a conventional or no-till system. Depending on a particular grower’s preferences, he or she may not require each piece of equipment. The table provides a general guide to selecting equipment.

In a conventional system, producers may use a disk and field cultivator to prepare the planting area. Note that fields using conventional tillage methods may be more susceptible to weeds, and the tillage may contribute to topsoil erosion and cause greater greenhouse gas emissions.

For planting, producers may choose to use a row-crop planter, conventional drill or no-till drill. If using a planter, then press wheels may aid seed singulation and encourage seed contact with the soil. Configuring planting equipment for the given seed size will aid biomass sorghum establishment.

When producing biomass sorghum, maintenance involves applying fertilizer, herbicide and anhydrous ammonia. Growers will need access to machinery and equipment that sprays these inputs on biomass sorghum acreage. If a given field has pest or disease pressure, then pesticide and fungicide application may also be necessary.

To harvest biomass sorghum, two methods are common. The first method involves using a forage chopper to cut the standing crop. Direct forage chopping is convenient, and it also reduces sorghum mingling with dirt. If the final use doesn’t require a defined moisture level, then forage chopping would likely be most convenient. When harvested with a forage chopper, the material must be processed relatively quickly after harvest. The second method involves swathing biomass sorghum into windrows and then baling or chopping the windrows. This method allows the biomass to dry in the field. Although swathing equipment is already available, some companies are innovating technologies that can better manage high-yielding biomass sorghum.

To store harvested biomass sorghum, producers would need equipment to format the material into a form that they can store. Producers could bale biomass sorghum using a large square baler or large round baler. Alternatively, they could use a cotton module builder, or they could also ensile biomass sorghum.

Equipment and Machinery Needs for Biomass Sorghum Production

Conventional Production No-Till Production
Tractor X X
Tandem disk X
Field cultivator X
Planter X
No-till drill X
Fertilizer spreader X X
Sprayer X X
Anhydrous ammonia applicator X X
Forage chopper X X
Hay cutter and conditioner X X
Hay tedder X X
Large round baler X X
Hauling X X
Owned and Operated Equipment or Custom Hire Services

When considering crop production machinery and equipment needs, producers have the option to used owned equipment or hire a custom service provider. The decision will depend on an operation’s current machinery and equipment inventory, time available for conducting machinery operations and the difference in cost. The following table compares projected costs for the two scenarios. In the first, a grower owns and operates equipment. In the second, a grower hires a custom service provider to carry out equipment-related work. The machinery costs are meant to represent total costs incurred for operating equipment needed in biomass sorghum production for bioenergy use.

Estimated Machinery Costs and Custom Rates, Per Acre Per Year

Machinery Cost Custom Rate
Tandem disk $12.60 $12.74
Field cultivator $9.80 $15.20
Planter $12.70 $13.71
No-till drill $16.40 $16.53
Fertilizer spreader $7.62 $5.34
Sprayer $3.70 $5.98
Anhydrous ammonia applicator $12.20 $12.17
Forage chopper, haul and pile or fill bunker $81.40 $522.76
Cutting and conditioning $20.70 $12.04
Tedding $7.80 $4.82
Baling large round bales $29.20 $420.00
Hauling $62.03 $63.60
* Hauling rate may vary depending on proximity to ultimate market.

Blade Energy Crops. 2010. Managing High-Biomass Sorghum as a Dedicated Energy Crop. Ceres, Inc. Thousand Oaks, CA 91320.

Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics. 2012. Machinery Cost Estimates: Summary. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Urbana, IL 61801.

Plain, Ronald L. and Joyce White. 2012. 2012 Custom Rates for Farm Services in Missouri. University of Missouri Extension. Columbia, MO 65211.

Stiles, Scott and Terry Griffin.n.d. Estimating Farm Machinery Costs. University of Arkansas. Little Rock, AR 72204.