In a recent story in Southeast Farm Press it was reported that the Osage Bio Energy plant in Hopewell, Va., is on schedule to open in 2011. In fact the plant is scheduled to begin operations this summer.

The Hopewell plant, officially titled Appomattox Bio Energy, is the first barley to ethanol plant in the Southeast.

To see some of the impact of the new plant click here and here.

Growing barley for Osage Bio Energy proved to be a blessing for a number of Virginia growers. Fall rains and subsequent snow, ice and atypical winter weather took a heavy toll on wheat planting and production of wheat that did get planted.

Barley fared better than wheat and will give growers the added advantage of being able to plant double-crop beans earlier and increase overall per acre production.

Bill Scruggs, director, Agribusiness Development at Osage Bio Energy says, “Based upon my discussions with several key growers and observations of many fields in Virginia, the barley looks pretty good, especially considering the excessive rainfall during late fall.”

Scruggs says several growers have indicated the barley fared better than wheat because it was planted a few weeks earlier and before the heaviest rainfall events last November. Barley emerged prior to the heavy fall rains, resulting in a better stand. Recent conditions have been good for small grain development and hopefully this will continue through June.

In addition to providing an outlet to Southeast farmers for marketing barley, the new Osage Bio Energy plant will produce high quality barley feed products that stand to benefit area livestock operations.

Barley is used as a primary feed source for livestock in areas where the grain is grown extensively. It is used primarily as an energy and protein source in beef cattle diets. The nutrient content of barley compares favorably with that of corn, oats, wheat, and grain sorghum.

The crude protein content of barley is higher than corn and similar to other major feed grains. The energy content of barley is slightly lower than the energy value of corn, which is partially due to the higher fiber content of barley.

The upper Southeast is a primary production area for poultry, and there is some renewed interest in using barley meal in poultry diets.

In the past, barley has not been used for poultry feed because it has a lower nutritional value than corn and other grain meals used in poultry rations. The low nutritional value of barley for poultry is because of the absence of an intestinal enzyme for efficient depolymerization of β-glucan, the major polysaccharide of the endosperm cell walls. This leads to high viscosity in the intestine, limited nutrient uptake, decreased growth rate, and unhygienic sticky droppings adhering to chickens and floors of the production cages.

Recent studies at Washington State University found that addition to normal barley of 6.2 percent transgenic malt containing a thermotolerant β-glucanase provides a weight gain equivalent to corn diets. The number of birds with adhering sticky droppings is drastically reduced.

Other by-products of the barley to ethanol plant may provide additional benefits to Southeast growers. Research at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Eastern Regional Research Center has shown that the barley straw, hulls and distillers grains by-products of winter barley ethanol production can be used to manufacture biomass-derived fuels and co-products, including bio-oil.

For Virginia farmers the Osage Bio Energy plant in Hopewell provides them both cropping and marketing flexibility. Soybeans in a double-crop system with barley have increased bean yield and quality for a number of Virginia growers.

Kevin Engle who grows about 1,000 acres of barley near Hannover, Va., says his best beans typically come behind barley. Barley also allows the Virginia grower to keep planters going longer in the fall, planting barley and going straight into wheat. In the spring, he will start combining barley two weeks or so earlier than wheat. Once his barley is cut, he can go straight into wheat.

“I don’t want to own a combine and work it for a month or two a year. I want to work that expensive equipment as long as I can. Barley fits well into our operation to help us maximize our harvesting equipment,” Engel says.

Engle grows most of his barley under irrigation, which he says, is a big boost for the soybeans that follow. Our best soybeans come after irrigated barley, so we are maximizing our crop yields, and at the same time, maximizing use of our irrigation equipment, he says.

Osage Bio Energy is extending a win/win situation for the company and for Virginia growers to a win/win/win situation in which energy consumers and livestock producers also benefit.