Local farmers await word on biodiesel plant


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
John Diescher holds up a soybean plant, showing how each pod characteristically has three beans, at his farm on Route 11 in Cortlandville. Diescher is among local soybean farmers anxiously awaiting SUNYMorrisville’s decision on where to locate a biodiesel fuel processing plant.    

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — While SUNY Morrisville is considering whether to bring a biodiesel fuel processing plant to the area, local farmers who grow soybeans are anxious for a decision.
“I’d definitely like to see the old plant get going again,” said John Diescher, who grows about 150 acres of soybeans at his farm on Route 11 in Cortlandville.
Diescher was referring to the former Homer Oil facility on Center Street in the village of Homer, which is one of six regional sites being considered by the college.
“It would be a nice market for us to get rid of our beans, and a nice benefit for dairy farmers to be able to come in and get local meal,” he said.
SUNY Morrisville and its investors for the biodiesel fuel plant are still looking at cost factors for each potential site, said college President Ray Cross.
One key issue being discussed, according to Cross, is whether to import soybean oil for refining into biodiesel, or to give the plant soybean-crushing capabilities, which would allow the plant to produce its own oil by crushing beans grown locally.
“Biodiesel benefits consumers, the environment, and in our case education, but we want to also try and find an advantage for New York farmers, and by creating a crushing plant we’d be able to do that,” he said. “If we do decide to do crushing, Cortland is the primary candidate for sure because it’s the western county in the region where soybeans are grown, and we want to be as close as we can to the growers.”
A crushing facility in Phelps in Ontario County and a potential facility in Cortland County could frame the primary soybean growing region in New York state, Cross has said.
Besides the Homer Oil site, SUNY Morrisville is considering sites on Route 11 in Polkville and off south Main Street in Cortland.
The college also is looking at a facility in Sangerfield, Oneida County, and two additional sites, both in Madison County, Cross said.
Cross was not sure Friday when a decision would be made.
There are seven farms growing about 836 acres of soybeans, according to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Cortland County.
Most of that acreage is grown as a rotational crop and processed into feed for livestock, according to Rob Gallinger, executive director of the FSA, but that could change if a local market for soybeans was created.
“I think some farmers would definitely consider cash cropping and growing more of it if they had the market,” Gallinger said.
A Cortland County plant would decrease the cost to farmers of transporting their beans to a processing plant, Cross said, and ultimately it could increase the price per bushel of soybeans.
Currently, local farmers receive around 70 cents less per bushel than the prices set by the Chicago Board of Trade, according to Cross. Soybeans are trading on the Chicago Board of Trade at about $5.50 per bushel.
“Basically, the closer you are to someone who can process your beans, the closer you’re going to get to the Chicago Board of Trade prices,” Cross said. “By creating a crushing plant, we could probably increase local values by 30 cents per bushel.”
Ralph Parks, who has about 150 acres of soybeans on Union Valley Road in Cincinnatus, said that when he began growing the crop around 1990, local prices were about 20 cents above the Chicago Board of Trade prices.
“Losing Homer Oil really put a crimp on things,” said Parks, who noted that increased local production of the crop combined with the lack of crushing facilities had also contributed to the drop in prices. “They were by far the closest processor for me, and they were a good, clean organization.”
Parks has been sending his soybeans, through an agreement with Lansing Grain in Auburn, to the Port of Oswego, and from there he’s not sure where they are shipped.
If a crushing facility were opened locally, Parks said it is likely he would sell many of his beans directly to it.
“If their bids are close to anybody else’s, it’s a logical place to deliver to,” he said.
Diescher transports his soybeans to a farm in Fleming that grows and crushes its own beans and then drives the processed feed back to Cortland County for his cattle.
A local facility would save him significant amounts on transportation costs, he said.
“It costs a lot to go both ways right now, but that plant (Homer Oil) is four miles from my bean field,” Diescher said. “It would be a great benefit for me, but even if I wasn’t farming I would be for it.”
The potential benefit of biodiesel fuel as an alternative to petroleum-based fuel was reason enough to support a local facility, Diescher said.
“It would be a great benefit to this community and to the entire country,” he said. “And also a great boost to the agricultural community.”



Police say teen stole vehicles

Staff Reporter

Three police agencies together to arrest a 16-year-old Cortlandville resident Friday on numerous counts relating to three stolen vehicles.
City police, the Cortland County Sheriff’s Department and the village of Homer Police Department all arrested Stephen A. Elwood of 3535 Kellogg Road, Cortlandville, after he allegedly stole two cars and then tried to steal a motorcycle Friday night.
Investigator Brain Ayers of the Sheriff’s Department said his agency stopped Elwood early Friday evening in 2001 Lincoln LS after a report of disorderly conduct at the intersection of Kellogg and Loop Roads. During the traffic stop, officers issued Elmwood tickets for unlicensed operation, operating a vehicle without registration and operating a vehicle without insurance, all traffic violations.
Ayres said police released Elwood to his parents when they were unable to contact the owner of the vehicle.
Later that night at around midnight, after impounding the vehicle, the Sheriff’s Department discovered the car had been stolen from a Homer Avenue address, which Homer police were investigating. Homer police said that as of 11:30 this morning they were not prepared to release any information about the case.
Ayers said when his officers tried to find Elwood they were notified that city police had just arrested him.
“There was a delay because the vehicle had just been sold,” he said.
Lt. Paul Sandy of the city police, said Ayers had broken into a private workshop on 172 Elm St. and was trying to steal a 1986 Kawasaki motorcycle when the owner returned home at around 11:39 p.m. and caught Elwood in the act.  Sandy said Ayers ran but was caught by police.



Museum launches fundraising effort

Staff Reporter

A nonprofit group plans to raise $5 million for the Brockway Truck Museum and other historic collections from Cortland County.
The Homer-Cortland Community Agency will be seeking grant money and community donations over the next few years for the museum at the former A.B. Brown property on Route 11 in Cortlandville.
Joe During, chairman of the fundraising campaign and an accountant, made the announcement Saturday at the seventh annual Brockway Truck Show. The money will ensure Brockway trucks come home to Cortland, he said.
“It will truly be a homecoming that will be unmatched in Cortland when it’s all finished,” he said.
The museum will consist of three buildings set on 5.5 acres of property along the West Branch of the Tioughnioga River. The buildings already stand but need to be renovated.
The museum will showcase Brockway trucks as well as other historic collections from Cortland County. Those will include Mahlon Irish’s collection of antique fire trucks, antique tractors from Tractors of Yesteryear,  an antique clock collection and the Homeville Museum Collection, which features military and railroad memorabilia.
The Brockway family started building wagons in Homer in 1875, according to the Brockway Preservation Association’s Web site, and then transitioned to building trucks in 1910. The company built a factory in 1912 between Elm Street and Central Avenue in Cortland. The company became a subsidiary of Mack Trucks in 1955 before finally closing in 1977.
On Dec. 24, Elaine and Peter Grimm, of Troy, donated $375,000 to the Brockway Truck Show Inc. to purchase the site.
Peter Grimm  said he liked how the museum would house a number of collections.
“I liked the direction they were going,” he said. “The museum will be enough for the whole family to come to.”




County airport looking to build new hangar

With 14 people on a waiting list for hangar space, the Cortland County Airport is looking at building a new series of hangar.
The new building, which would have 10 bays available for rental, would be located just west of the two existing similar hangars, said airport manager Bob Buerkle, who gave preliminary plans to the Legislature’s Highway Committee on Tuesday.
Buerkle did not have specifics for the new building, but said it would be a roughly 11,000-square-foot steel structure that he estimated would cost about $400,000.
“The big thing is we have this waiting list of 14 people, and they’re asking me all the time when this is gonna be built,” Buerkle said. “They’d like to get their planes under cover, but there just isn’t a whole lot of room right now.”
Currently the airport has two sets of hangers with 16 bays, 15 of which are rented to private aviators. The hangars are T-shaped to accomodate the planes.
In recent years, the airport has become increasingly busy, said county Highway Superintendent Don Chambers.
The Highway Department oversees the airport on Route 222 in Cortlandville.
“The activity has increased quite a bit at our airport,” Chambers said at the meeting.
The 10 new bays would be rented out for $200 per month apiece, Buerkle said, bringing in $48,000 a year in revenue.