Wet distillers grains are loaded at Adkins Energy LLC. The 50-million gallon ethanol plant in Stephenson County produces about 100,000 tons of dried distillers grains and 125,000 tons of wet distillers grains each year. In addition, Adkins has begun construction on a 2-million gallon biodiesel plant that is expected to begin production in May. Adkins will use distillers corn oil from the plant to produce the biodiesel.
Wet distillers grains are loaded at Adkins Energy LLC. The 50-million gallon ethanol plant in Stephenson County produces about 100,000 tons of dried distillers grains and 125,000 tons of wet distillers grains each year. In addition, Adkins has begun construction on a 2-million gallon biodiesel plant that is expected to begin production in May. Adkins will use distillers corn oil from the plant to produce the biodiesel.
FREEPORT, Ill. — Work has started in Stephenson County to help young people get involved and thrive in the agricultural industry.

“Right now we’re making an emphasis to rebuild our young leaders program,” said Steve Fricke, president of the Stephenson County Farm Bureau. “We are starting with a kickoff for young leaders in our county.”

The county has a core group of young farmers who have been involved at the state level in activities such as the discussion meet.

“We want to make sure we keep that group fresh and growing,” Fricke said.

“One of the things we’ve been working on with our development group is trying to convince the education areas that we need strong, young people understanding there are great careers in agriculture, not just on the farm,” said Fricke who is serving his second year as president of the farm bureau.

Prior to becoming president, Fricke served as secretary-treasurer for six years, and he has been a board member for 17 years.

“I became active in Farm Bureau because I wanted to be more involved in some of the things going on, and it is also a way you give back to your community,” he explained.

Fricke operates a small farm where he grows corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa and manages a cowherd. He also taught agriculture at Freeport High School for 19 years, and he is a Realtor.

“I just went to a presentation by David Kohl, (professor emeritus at Virginia Tech), and he said you put young men into a spray rig and they almost need the skills of a fighter pilot to run it,” he said. “That’s why we’re focused on our young leaders. We need to make sure we have capable employees for our agricultural industry.”

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, there are 1,075 farms in Stephenson County and about 324,000 tillable acres where corn, soybeans, wheat and forage crops are grown. In 2013, farmers grew 371,000 bushels of wheat and 71,100 bushels of oats.

Corn production in the county totaled 17,222,000 bushels in 2012, and soybean production that year hit 2,706,000 bushels.

Along with grain production, Fricke said, “we also have poultry here, several beef feedlots and dairy operations with some of them expanding.”

Generation To Generation

Hunter Haven Farms Inc. near Pearl City is operated by the Doug and Tom Block families.

“My dad farmed with my grandfather, and in 1950 our dad bought the farm Tom and I grew up on from a man named Hunter,” said Doug Block, a fifth-generation farmer. “The farm has rolling hills and a lot of timber, and we grew up enjoying hunting squirrels with our grandfather, so Hunter Haven Farm seemed like an appropriate name.”

After completing degrees from the University of Illinois, the brothers returned to the family operation in the early 1970s.

“Dad gave us the opportunity to buy in on the farm,” Block said. “We had a 70-cow Holstein herd with dad.”

After their father’s retirement, the Blocks increased the herd to 450 cows.

“About nine years ago, we installed an anaerobic digester on our farm,” the dairyman said. “We received a federal grant and a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce that paid for about half of the project.”

Without these grants, Block said, it would have taken about 20 years to pay the project back.

“With the grants it turned into a nice project,” he said.

In addition to producing electricity for the farm and selling electricity back to the grid, the digester also produces bedding for the cowherd.

“Our previous bedding was sawdust, and with the problems in the housing industry and the cost of fuel increasing, the cost of sawdust bedding has gone up significantly,” Block said. “We also sell about 10 percent of the bedding to other local livestock producers.”

“About six years ago, when we went from 450 cows to 750 cows, we put in another generator,” he said.

Although there are some empty livestock buildings in the county where families once milked 15 to 20 cows or 40 to 50 cows, Block said, over the last five to 10 years he has seen a trend where several family members now are farming together.

“I’m seeing operations with fathers and sons or brothers farming together, and some of them include five or six families,” the dairyman said. “The farms have gotten larger, but they are still really strong family operations.”

The challenge for some operations, including Hunter Haven Farms, is transferring the business to the next generation.

“Nobody can do what my grandfather and dad did and start on 120 acres and raise a family,” Block said. “That is not reality today, so we in agriculture have to provide an avenue for young people who are interested to be able to get ownership.”

For the dairy industry, Block said, he is encouraged by the evolution of the robotic milkers.

“There are a few robotic milkers being installed in our area, and I’m excited about that,” he said. “They appear to be quite functional for a 150- to 200-cow herd.”

Ethanol And Biodiesel

Adkins Energy LLC, near Lena, is a 50 million-gallon ethanol plant that has been in operation since 2002.

“We are also fortunate to have Adkins Energy here, which provides a market for our corn,” Fricke said.

In addition to ethanol, the plant also produces wet and dry distillers grains.

“We use about 17 million bushels of corn a year,” said Ray Baker, general manager of Adkins Energy. “In a typical year, we produce about 100,000 tons of dried distillers grains and 125,000 tons of wet distillers grains.”

Construction has begun to add a 2 million-gallon biodiesel plant at Adkins.

“For the past four to five years, we’ve been separating corn oil out of our process and selling it to feed markets and biodiesel markets,” Baker said. “We’ve been looking for the right technology, and when we found it, we started construction last fall.”

Adkins separates about 1.7 million gallons of corn oil each year, which will be used as the primary feedstock for the biodiesel production.

“One of the major reasons we decided to add the biodiesel production is to help our plant become more efficient,” Baker explained. “This is the first of its kind that will be fully integrated into an ethanol production facility.”

The ethanol and biodiesel plants will share in the utilities.

“We will use the infrastructure in place to help both processes become more efficient and produce two renewable fuels from the same kernel of corn,” Baker said.

Biodiesel production is expected to begin in mid- to late-May.

Baker stressed the importance of maintaining the renewable fuels standard. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed the renewable fuel mandate in the RFS be lowered, as well as the advanced fuel mandate, which includes biodiesel.

“Agriculture and renewable fuels are important to rural economies like Stephenson County because they create jobs and economic opportunity not just for the people at the plant or farmers,” Baker said. “When farmers have been able to improve their profitability, they have money to spend in their community. So we hope the RFS is maintained, so we can continue to bring new technologies and opportunities to the area.”

“The future of agriculture in our county is strong — we have a great farmer base that’s young, and we have a fantastic support group of agricultural industry,” Fricke said.

“I just went to an Envision Tomorrow seminar that included guest speakers that talked to us about what’s happening in our industry,” the Farm Bureau president said. “It was put together by a group of more than 25 local banks and agricultural businesses to help us improve our bottom lines.”