Grass pellet heating system intended to provide new cash crop for farmers

Experimental project being established at Perennia centre

Published on November 27, 2012
Jonathon McClelland, general manager of West Nova Agro Commodities Ltd., in the Annapolis Valley, demonstrates some of the grass pellets his company is working to produce as a new, green energy source that could also provide a new cash crop for Nova Scotia farmers. HARRY SULLIVAN TRURO DAILY NEWS

BIBLE HILL - An experimental heating system being established at the Perennia Innovation Centre is intended to also serve as an avenue for new cash crops for Nova Scotia farmers.

A boiler room is being constructed behind the Bible Hill facility that is designed to burn grass pellets. The project is to serve as a pilot project to demonstrate how the experimental renewal resource can replace traditional heating sources, such as oil, which is currently used to heat the Perennia centre.

"We really like the idea that farmers can make money (by growing grass from which to make the pellets)," Agriculture Minister John MacDonell said, during the Tuesday morning announcement at the centre.

The Department of Agriculture is spending $787,200 to construct a building behind Perennia Centre for the pellet-burning boiler and to connect it to the facility.

A tender will be issued for a grass pellet supplier and the government is hoping the grass-burning initiative can be expanded to other companies and industry to the point that it will make it viable for Nova Scotia farmers to grow a special type of grass as a new cash crop.

"If the prices are right, and that's the other part of this," MacDonell said. "The farmer has to know it's worth turning on the tractor to do this."

The minister said there are about 40,000 hectares of pasture or forage land in the province that could easily be developed to produce 360,000 tonnes of grass pellets per year, a figure that could translate into $36 million annually for the agriculture industry.

Truro-Bible Hill MLA Lenore Zann, who was also present for the announcement, described the venture as a "very interesting and intriguing" idea that will provide a boost to innovators looking to establish the niche market.

"So, in doing this, we believe that we're helping to position Nova Scotia as a leader in this field while we help our farmers right here at home to continue growing a strong diverse agriculture industry that builds on our natural advantages," she said.

"When we do support our farmers, we are also helping to support our rural communities and we're helping to create jobs here at home and we're contributing to the provincial economy. And I think that's good for everybody, for all Nova Scotians."

The grass-burning boiler is expected to be ready for operation by the end of March and the government is currently working with West Nova Agro Commodities Ltd., in the Annapolis Valley to produce quality pellets.

Jonathon McClelland, general manager of West Nova Agro Commodities, estimated the cost of burning grass pellets could work out to about 60 to 70 per cent of the cost of burning furnace oil.

"We see this as an industry that can reduce energy costs ... provide cost stability and also provide a new green fuel for our environment," he said.

"And here is an opportunity for farmers to take the equipment they already own, make the good quality hay when the weather is good (and) once that peak time is past, they can use the same equipment to use the under-utilized land to produce a fuel and cash crop for them."