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Iowa’s corn crop is one of its claims to fame. We all see the combines out in the field every fall shelling the golden yellow product from the cobs and distributing the byproduct back onto the fields where it decomposes and helps to improve the soil quality. Many seed corn companies throughout the Midwest raise corn for the sole purpose of selling the seed corn to farmers for planting their future crop. This corn is harvested a little differently using specialized machines. When seed corn producers harvest seed corn they pick the entire cob from the stalk and remove the kernels from the cob through a more delicate process at the plant. This process generates a kernel free cob as a byproduct.
One company has seen great value in these cobs for many years. Since 1966 BestCob of Independence, Iowa has structured their business around processing these cobs into a product. The cobs are purchased from seed companies then hauled to Independence. During harvest season the Independence plant receives about 25 semi loads per day. The cobs are unloaded and stored in a clean dry environment until they are processed.
The cobs are processed into products throughout the year at a rate of 3,000 tons per month. The processing consists of grinding, cleaning, and sifting into different sizes for different products.
Regrinding or pelletizing may also be necessary. The end commercial product is simply a cleaned corn cob particle in many different sizes from BB size to very fine flour. This material is sold according to size as soft blasting grit, mushroom cultivation media, animal bedding, kitty litter, pesticide carrier, carriers for animal feed additives, animal pharmaceutical carriers, chemical and oil absorbent material, and filler for plastic and composite products just to name a few. Each cob particle has the ability to absorb 100 times its own weight in liquid and is completely biodegradable which makes it a desirable product to many different industries.
Unfortunately it is impossible to keep all the cobs from getting contaminated by moisture, dirt, mold, etc. When this happens the contaminated cobs need to be separated and disposed of (see photo below). Ben Kvigne, Area 3 IWE Resource Specialist was contacted by the Black Hawk County Landfill and was asked if he could find an alternative to landfill disposal for this material.
After talking to the Plant Manager, Kvigne referred Best Cob to a local sawmill that sells composting mix to farmers for the purpose of composting their dead livestock. The sawmill already uses a similar material from a different cob processor a couple hours away and it appear to add value to their sawdust and tree bark mix. The sawmill was happy to accept the material and has taken in 30 tons so far. They are mixing it in with the sawdust and tree bark at a rate of about 10%. According to the current Plant Manager at BestCob, this IWE assistance resulted in savings from landfill tipping fees, dumpster charges, and trucking since they only need to haul about 20 miles in a round trip. This business connection will likely continue and both BestCob and the sawmill will continue to reap the benefits of the IWE assistance.
For more information regarding the Iowa Waste Exchange and additional Financial and Business Assistance Programs visit www.iowadnr.gov/FABA