Vilsack Announces $10 Million Grant Program to Find Uses for Agricultural Waste

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack watches milk bottling operations Tuesday during an event at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely. Vilsack visited the creamery and announced funding for a new farmer assistance program created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

ELY — For US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, infrastructure isn’t just about investing in roads, bridges and high-speed internet. It’s also about investing in the future and inspiring innovation, he says.

Like using corn to make yoga pants. Or using anaerobic digestion on a cattle feedlot to break down manure and food waste into methane gas that can generate electricity.

During an event on Tuesday at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely, the head of the US Department of Agriculture and former governor of Iowa announced funding for a program created under the bipartisan infrastructure bill $1 trillion signed into law by President Joe Biden.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, chat with Director of Operations Josie Rozum during an event at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely. Mathis is running for Congress against incumbent US GOP Representative Ashley Hinson. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

“Dan and Debbie represent the many American farmers, families and communities the USDA is called upon to serve,” Vilsack said. “This pilot program is a critical part of USDA’s commitment to strengthening the circular economy and providing additional sources of income for farmers. This program will help farmers take field residues and waste and turn them into value-added products that create wealth and drive economic development in rural areas.

Under this program, the USDA will award up to $10 million divided among the highest-scoring applications that include eligible universities and private sector partners.

Vilsack said the initiative will help build a bioeconomy in America by finding ways to turn agricultural residues into products for consumers and construction.

“What does that mean? It means taking everything grown, raised and produced on a farm and turning it into something more valuable,” Vilsack said. , not just the livestock that can be processed, but also all the waste.”

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks during an event at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely on Tuesday. The former governor of Iowa announced a grant program to help farmers. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

He talked about building a $300 million chemical plant in Eddyville, southeast Iowa, that will use corn to make fabric and other materials.

The project – a joint venture of Cargill and HELM, a Germany-based chemical company – will produce a chemical called Qira, developed from corn sugar instead of fossil fuels, said Jill Zullo, general manager of bio-intermediates at Cargill. .

Qira can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 93% compared to traditional fossil sources, according to Cargill. The chemical is used to make spandex and sportswear.

Carbon dioxide trapped by corn creates starch. The starch sugars are then fermented into butanediol, with the Qira being extracted, Zullo said.

The facility is being built on Cargill’s existing campus in Eddyville and is expected to open in the summer of 2024.

“We would sell Qira to the spandex maker, and then that spandex maker would sell it to lululemon, Nike, Under Armour,” Zullo said.

Vilsack said the investment is part of the Biden administration’s ongoing work to create well-paying jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost economic opportunity in rural communities.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and State Senator Liz Mathis, D-Hiawatha, chat with Director of Operations Josie Rozum during an event at Dan and Debbie’s Creamery in Ely. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)

After securing the initial grant and once equipped with a “roadmap” on how to create a bio-based product that can become a consumer product or building material, Vilsack said applicants can then mine and navigate more easily into existing grant and loan assistance programs. through the USDA and the Infrastructure Bill in hopes of accelerating “climate-smart agricultural practices” like those of Bryan Sievers.

Sievers owns and operates a beef cattle feedlot in Stockton, outside of Davenport.

On April 26, 2021, farmer Bryan Sievers talks about the thousands of cows on his property and how they contribute to the digestion and biogas system at Sievers Family Farms in Stockton. (The Gazette)

Seeking to expand his feeding operation, but wanting to do so “in a very sustainable way,” Sievers built an anaerobic digester in 2013 with the help of a $500,000 USDA grant. It has also received a USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Program and an energy grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Sievers said the farm generates enough electricity from the methane produced by the digester, which it sells to Alliant Energy, to power 1,000 homes.

“It’s really a way for us to grow our beef cattle industry in a way that reduces our carbon footprint,” Sievers said. “We just think it’s a great opportunity to manage our risk and our farming operation, and create another way to generate cash flow in a way that we think is very sustainable.”

Sievers said the methane produced by the digester has provided a steady stream of revenue to hedge against commodity price volatility.

“The profitability of livestock feed can be very cyclical,” he said. “You can lose a lot of money. You can earn lots of money. … The benefits of cattle will come and go, but they will (defecate) every day.

Sievers said the company is now considering expanding its digestion facility to produce renewable natural gas that would be injected into a pipeline and turned into compressed or liquid natural gas for use as transportation fuel.

“A program like this will help us look to the future and potentially grow,” he said. “And hopefully other facilities can come in and do the same kinds of things that we’ve been doing on our farm for nine years.”

Complete information on this funding is available at

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