Farmer Does as Teacher Says – All in One

If you teach it, you must live it.  That is the wisdom Steven R. Kochemba adheres to.

Kochemba is a science teacher and the athletic director for the Joseph Badger School District in Trumbull County north of Youngstown, Ohio.  He’s also a farmer.

Among his other science courses, Kochemba teaches 8th and 9th graders about energy conservation.  While doing research for his classes, “I ran across information about BCAP,” says the educator.

The Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) is a government incentive program created in the U.S. Congress during the drafting of the 2008 Farm Bill. It was designed in part to provide farmers income while they raised non-food crops that could be turned into energy.

In many cases, crops like miscanthus, which Kochemba plans to grow, take up to three years before the crop is mature and capable of generating revenue.  But, once it does, the thick grass that grows up to 15 feet tall, can produce a crop for as many as 20 years or more before replanting is needed.

“I found information about [BCAP] online,” says Kochemba.  “I don’t think there’s any chance I would have [enrolled] without the program.  Costs would have been prohibitive.”

Away from school, Kochemba helped his father with 200 acres of northeast Ohio farmland.  Richard Kochemba gave up his dairy business about 10 years ago, says the son.  He leased some of the farm to neighbors and sold John Deere tractors for the area dealer.

Richard died recently after a 6-year battle with cancer, giving Steven more responsibilities for the family operation and more reason to be hopeful about his miscanthus project.

Kochemba says, too, that learning through BCAP lent legitimacy to miscanthus as an energy crop.  With the knowledge and support from USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which administers BCAP, and the project area sponsor, Aloterra Energy, he says he felt like “I couldn’t fail.”

“The ground is pretty poor in terms of it being wet ground – pretty heavy.”  He says he has about 47 acres not well suited for much else except his renewable energy crop.  He expects to plant the miscanthus rhizomes this spring and patiently wait for it to mature.

Steven Kochemba’s approach is that of a teacher and coach.  “I want to set a good example; give it a try.”  He says he teaches about the things that need to be done to preserve natural resources, so it only makes sense for him to practice his own lessons.  “It’s about taking care of our environment.”

When harvested, miscanthus is compressed into pellets that can be used as fuel for industrial purposes, replacing or supplementing fossil fuels that discharge sulfur and other unwanted airborne chemicals.  It produces energy and is environmentally friendly.

“One of the primary reasons that I have remained involved with farming is that I believe it offers children an incredible opportunity to learn about work ethic and responsibility while doing something enjoyable.”

Kochemba says he is eager to be a good farmer, practicing what he teaches the youngsters at Joseph Badger School.

BCAP is important element of our national energy strategy to address high fuel prices and reduce reliance on petroleum. To create jobs in rural communities, drive economic growth, and help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, USDA is aggressively pursuing investments in renewable energy, investing in or making payments to over 5,700 renewable energy and energy efficiency improvement projects. More than 130 biodiesel and ethanol projects funded by USDA are currently producing almost 3.7 billion gallons of biodiesel and ethanol annually, enough fuel – in equivalence to gasoline – to keep five million vehicles on the road every year. In addition, USDA provided financial assistance for blender fuel pumps so drivers can pump fuels with higher ethanol mix into their gas tanks. This year, these programs provided financial assistance to help support nearly 250 blender fuel pumps.

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