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PROGRAMS AND PEOPLE UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURAL AND LIFE SCIENCES MAGAZINE
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A case for growing oilseed near refineries

by Mary Ann Reese and Becker Gutsch

John Herkes worries that “90 percent of the people involved in manufacturing biofuels are going about it in the wrong way.”

Herkes should know. Assuming he completes all requirements this year, he’ll be the oldest person to get his doctorate degree in the history of this college. Majoring in biological and agricultural engineering, with a biofuels emphasis, Herkes celebrated his 80th birthday in April.

He has spent the past 2 years studying and writing about the potential for biofuels in the Palouse—miles of rolling fertile land where Idaho, Washington, and Oregon meet—as his dissertation topic.

Following months of interviews and research, he worries about building biofuels processing plants in Idaho and elsewhere without feedstocks—materials needed to make the oil—growing nearby.


John Herkes leads biofuels labs for University of Idaho students
while completing his doctoral studies.

A more holistic model

A far better model, he is convinced, is to increase profits locally by producing the oilseeds close to the refinery to avoid shipping and other costs. “Idaho’s legislators could encourage this,” Herkes says. “If they’d pay for 60 percent of the planting seed, this would encourage farmers to grow these oil crops on Idaho land.”

In the rich wheat and lentil-growing Palouse fields, Herkes is convinced mustard or canola crops would be great to plant every third year, benefiting traditional crops the following year, and bringing increased income into the region.

Herkes hopes to launch a bioenergy consulting firm and remain based in the Moscow area after he graduates. His vision is, “all people should be energy independent—not under the thumb of a small group of countries or a cartel.” Before enrolling at the University of Idaho to study biofuels, Herkes spent many years developing agro-industrial projects throughout the tropical world.

Contact John Herkes at herkes@uidaho.edu.



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