Corn Commentary

Economic Impact of Ethanol is Personal

A new study out from the Fuels America coalition shows that the industry supports more than 850,000 American jobs and drives $184.5 billion of economic output.

fuels-americaIt also is responsible for $46.2 billion in wages and generates $14.5 billion in tax revenue each year.

But numbers are impersonal and fail to show the real personal impact of what ethanol production has meant for rural areas. National Corn Growers Association Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett says farmers tell him ethanol is the reason their children have come back or decided to stay on the farm. “When I get tough farmers come up with misty eyes and say ‘that’s why this is so important because my kid came back,’” said Doggett during a press conference announcing the Fuels America report. “It gives them a way to pass that farm on to the next generation.”

Listen to Doggett’s comments here: Jon Doggett, NCGA

Listen to the full press conference here: Fuels America new economic report

Binging on Earth Day Irony

dead dolphinOk, I admit I love irony. So I had to chuckle a little bit as everyone was getting fired up about the arrival of another Earth Day. The irony lies in the fact that this momentous occasion occurs two days after the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

To refresh your memory this was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, estimated to be up to 31% larger in volume than the previously largest, the Ixtoc I oil spill. Following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a sea-floor oil gusher flowed for 87 days, until it was capped on 15 July 2010. The US Government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels.

That’s 210 million gallons of oil and we don’t even want to talk about the 2 million gallons of toxic chemicals they call dispersants which were either to:

  • Hide BP’s Faux Pas and remove it from public display
  • or allow nature to recover faster

The irony gets tastier if you are my age because I am old enough, ok more than old enough, to have celebrated the first Earth Day and remember how this whole affirmation of Mother Terra Firma began. It started 44 years ago after a US Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, witnessed the ravages of a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. Inspired by the student anti-war movement, he realized that if he could infuse that energy with an emerging public consciousness about air and water pollution, it would force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

Well the Earth Day recognition has lasted but the public consciousness and the leadership of our elected officials lacks a little staying power. Today, the oil industry continues to be one of the largest polluters in the world. And because of their deep pockets and political influence they have been allowed to blithely go about their business with little or no consequences.

The BP spill offers a great case in point. Big oil responded initially and spent money for clean-up efforts and they put on a contrite face while the cameras were on. But take a closer look today at their efforts in court to dodge any more clean-up costs and the fines that were imposed. They say their job is done even as the number of dead dolphin washing up on beaches topped 900 last week. Kemp sea turtle have been nearly ravaged into extinction in Gulf waters.

And to add insult to injury petroleum interests are now spending millions to mislead the public. Big oil is poisoning the system as well as the environment. They are doing everything they can to keep a death grip on the liquid transportation fuel market.

That’s why today—Earth Day — you should take few minutes to educate yourself regarding the sheer audacity of oil. It’s as simple as going to OilRigged.com to shine a spotlight on the oil companies’ dirty tricks and dishonest attacks. Americans deserve to know how oil companies have rigged the system to make us pay more at the pump—sending their profits up while our air and water quality goes down.

Forbes Fuzzy Math

Forbes proved that by carefully presenting numbers in a persuasively plotted manner one can confuse a reader this weekend in its story “It’s Final – Corn Ethanol Is Of No Use”. Referencing the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group reports released at the end of last month, energy writer James Conca conca-cocted a seemingly sensible argument. Unfortunately, he used slanted stats to obfuscate the truth and, with the skill of a math-magician, create an illusion instead of a solid story.

In his argument, Conca cleverly hides reality through the use of percentages. Comparing the total percent of the corn crop used to feed people and livestock in 2000 (90 percent) to the broken out figures for livestock and food and beverage feed in 2013 (45 percent and 15 percent respectively). He clearly intends to shock by using the smallest possible numbers for 2013 instead of using a more mentally honest direct comparison.

But this is only the beginning of the show. Much of the story happens off the stage.

Behind the curtain, Conca hides the hard numbers that would show his sleight of hand for what it actually is. In 2000, the United States produced only 9.9 billion bushels of corn. In 2013, U.S. farmers grew a record 13.9 billion bushels. Percentages working as they do, a larger percentage of a smaller crop can (and often does) equal a smaller percentage of a larger.

Usage for starch held steady. Sweetener, cereal and food usage rose.

Corn used for livestock feed rose too. In 2000, 5.2 billion bushels of U.S. corn went to livestock feed. In 2013, 4.3 billion bushels went directly to the livestock feed market with the equivalent of an additional 1.1 billion bushels going to feed use as distillers dried grains and corn gluten feed. That is a total of 5.4 billion bushels of corn in 2013.

Overlooking real magic, Conca fails to mention how ethanol co-product DDGs help maximize the potential of each kernel of corn by creating both feed and fuel from it.

While he puts on a complicated, carefully choreographed performance, Conca’s performance falls flat as a piece of unbiased journalism. Instead of shining the spotlight on the real fallacies, he follows the other righteously indignant frauds into a fog of reactionary rhetoric that obscures the bright role biofuels play in building an honestly better future.

The Littlest Ethanol Lobbyist

ace14-dc-ethan1Wearing a tie and sporting a “Don’t Mess with the RFS” button, 10-year-old Ethan Fagen was the youngest of the grassroots lobbyists at the recent American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Biofuels Beltway March on Capitol Hill.

Ethan came along with his grandfather, Ron Fagen of Fagen, Inc., and he was right in the trenches with him handing out materials and talking about the benefits of ethanol, like how good it is for the environment compared to fossil fuels. “Think in 200 years if you run ethanol there will be cleaner air for the next generation,” said Ethan, who is part of that next generation.

ace14-dc-fagensSitting in the front as the ACE Fly-in participants heard from government officials, Ethan caught the attention of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who thought it was “pretty cool” he was there for the event.

In my interview with Ethan, he told me that he would like to be a farmer someday and grow corn and have cattle. It’s interesting that if you add two letters to Ethan’s name, it becomes ethanol. That could be intentional, considering his grandfather is a pioneer in the ethanol industry! Interview with Ethan Fagen, ACE Fly-in Participant


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Talking with Lawmakers on Capitol Hill

capitol-snowDuring National Agriculture Day and American Coalition for Ethanol Fly-in activities just two weeks ago, I was able to interview three farm-state lawmakers from the Midwest about issues important to agriculture.

All three are strong supporters for farmers and ranchers and all serve on their agriculture committees. I asked all of them about the Renewable Fuel Standard and we discussed several other issues like WRRDA, over-regulation, and rail delays.

Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois discusses ethanol and the RFS, his experience working on the farm bill, and the water resources development bill.
Freshman Lawmaker Learns & Teaches on Farm BillInterview with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) talked about ethanol and the RFS, rail delays, farm bill implementation and livestock disaster aid.
Sen. Thune Talks Rail Delays and Livestock AidInterview with Senator John Thune (R-SD)

Retiring Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) talks about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), the problem farmer face with over regulation, and what his vision is for the future of agriculture.
Conversation with Sen. Mike JohannsInterview with Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE)

2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

Energy Independence No Greased Pig Fantasy

There is an old saying…”make hay while the sun is shining.” Dating back to at least 1546 this traditional farmer logic translates into grab opportunity while you can. This has never been truer regarding the nation’s energy situation. A new report by the Energy Information Administration makes that abundantly clear. EIA says the greased pig fantasy of energy independence in the US is real.

We’ve reduced our dependence on foreign oil from 60 percent to 45 percent in the last few years. This is real, quantifiable progress brought on by smaller, high mileage vehicles, less driving due to a sagging economy, 15 billion gallons of ethanol capacity and domestic oil production on steroids.

Net oil imports to the U.S. could fall to zero by 2037 because of robust production in areas including North Dakota’s Bakken field and Texas’s Eagle Ford formation, according to this Department of Energy projection released this week.

Most days I am just numb about government studies and gasoline prices. I pull up to the pump, try to ignore the price and move on about my day. But there are other days too when I am angry about being held hostage by oil companies, and especially about their cavalier approach to crushing any real competition.

And that is exactly that they are trying to do with ethanol today.  So, here is a novel thought. Let’s take this time of energy abundance to think big and invest in a more sustainable energy future rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door. Because, rest assured petroleum remains finite and the next generation will wonder why we squandered this brief respite from oil piracy.

Oil imports have fallen to about 5 million barrels a day from a peak of almost 13 million barrels in 2006, thanks in part to advances in techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in shale rock. Despite this, we continue to spend $1 billion a day protecting our assets in foreign oil. And there is no getting around that gasoline is bad for our health and the environment.

make-hayNow would be a great time to call your Congressman and Senator and ask them to show some vision regarding biofuels and our energy future. The rapid growth in ethanol production has shown us the promise of a bio-based fuel future. It’s time to make hay!

 

 

 

Corn Farmers March for Biofuels in the Beltway

ace14-dc-alversonThere were over 25 battalions of ethanol troops on Capitol Hill last week as part of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) sixth annual Biofuels Beltway March

ACE president Ron Alverson, a South Dakota farmer and board member for Dakota Ethanol, says the teams had appointments with the offices of more than 130 senators and representatives, and he thought they were well received, even in enemy territory. “We went into what we thought were going to be some pretty hard places – representatives from Alabama, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,” he said. “They were very cordial and they listened well … we were really pleased.”

Their main weapon against ethanol foes was good information to defend against some of the more popular arguments against ethanol, such as food versus fuel and engine issues with higher blends. “We’ve got some really good arguments and good data…all we can do is go out and tell our story,” said Alverson.Interview with Ron Alverson, ACE president

ace14-dc-corn-teamOver 80 people turned out for the ACE event this year, the most ever, and the diverse group included ethanol producers, retailers, bankers, truckers, cattle ranchers, students – and a whole bunch of corn farmers. The team here consisted of (LtoR) Missouri farmer Gary Porter, Missouri Corn Growers public policy director Shane Kinne, and Minnesota farmers on the board of Chippewa Valley Ethanol Dale Tolifson and Dave Thompson.

I caught up with them as they were heading out of the Capitol after making their rounds and asked them each to give a brief impression of their visits. Interview with Biofuels March team


2014 ACE Biofuels Beltway March photo album

The Future’s so Bright…

classic14-martin-shadesMartin’s got to wear shades.

That was National Corn Growers Association president Martin Barbre looking like a rock star at the final Corn Congress session of Commodity Classic. Not by choice, he actually broke his regular glasses the night before and had to wear his prescription shades to read.

But, Martin really does think the future is bright for corn farmers and agriculture in general, especially now that we finally have a finished farm bill and NCGA has reached a new membership record of 40,287 as of the end of February.

Two initiatives Martin is especially excited about right now are the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF) and the Soil Health Partnership.

“There’s no doubt that GMOs have become a hot button issue in recent years,” he said of the CFSAF, which advocates a federal solution that would establish standards for the safety and labeling of food and beverage products made with genetically modified ingredients. “We’re just getting the coalition together and getting a game plan together and when we do we’ll start moving forward.”

The Soil Health Partnership has the support of Monsanto and the Walton Family Foundation and relies on a science advisory council made up of government and university experts as well as environmental groups. “These are just examples of the coalitions we’ve been able to work on.”

Martin is even optimistic about the number one policy issue facing NCGA this year – protecting the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “We’re proud of the grassroots action we saw on the part of our nation’s corn farmers” to get thousands of comments in to the EPA on the proposal and thousands of calls to the White House. “We don’t know when the decision will come down or what it will be but we know we’ve done our part and we’ll continue to keep pressure on the administration.”

Martin talked about these issues and others in the following audio segments:

Interview with Martin Barbre, NCGA president
NCGA president on the Classic stage
NCGA Press Conference with Martin Barbre


2014 Commodity Classic Photos

CARB Serves Up Murky Alphabet Soup

soupThe iLUC analysis by CARB for the LCFS was based, in part, on EWG recommendations and included GTAP, AEZ-EF, and GREET models, input from EPA and USDA, consideration of RFS2, and also looked at contribution of DDGS and significance of YPE.

Watching a webcast of a California Air Resources Board (CARB) workshop this past week detailing preliminary staff results on Indirect Land Use Change (iLUC) models and analysis for the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) was sometimes like reading teen text messages. OMG, like, I was LOL and SMH at these PPL wondering WTH?

carb-14-2The 84 slide presentation of details on how CARB arrived at the values they are now proposing for corn ethanol, sugarcane ethanol, soy biodiesel, canola biodiesel and sorghum ethanol was interspersed with dozens of questions from stakeholders and scientists present or listening in on the webcast. An overriding theme of the entire four hours was “uncertainty” – which pretty well sums up the whole concept of indirect land use change. Nearly a quarter of the presentation was devoted to “Evaluation of Uncertainty” and “Why Results Vary Between Studies.” Many times points were made that there is no scientific consensus on certain values, or that some variables may not be taken into account.

I thought it was interesting and had to wonder why they decided to represent indirect Land Use Change with a little i for indirect. Maybe it’s supposed to be like iPhone or iPad. But there was even uncertainty on how to pronounce it as a word by those at the workshop – i-Luck, i-Look or i-Luke.

CARB is asking for feedback on the preliminary presentation by the end of March and plans to schedule one or two additional workshops in the coming months before completing an Independent Academic Review and presenting final report to the board in the fall. “Thank you for attending the LCFS opening ceremonies,” said CARB Transportation Fuels Branch Chief Michael Waugh at the conclusion of the workshop.

It would be funny if what CARB ultimately decides about iLUC would not have such an important impact on the use of corn ethanol in the state that uses the most motor fuel nationwide. I’m no scientist, but in IMHO, it’s just NAGI.

Smithsonian Wants Iconic Corn Ads

classic14-tolmanNational Corn Growers Association (NCGA) CEO Rick Tolman had bushels of great corn farmer news to share at the recent Commodity Classic about what the organization has done in the past year and what is happening now. We have since learned that this was the last Commodity Classic for Rick, as he has announced that he will be retiring at the end of September to enjoy more family time. He will surely be missed after 14 years of service to NCGA, but his retirement is well-deserved.

One exciting bit of news Rick announced at the NCGA banquet was that the Smithsonian Institution wants to put the Corn Farmers Coalition DC metro campaign ads in a new exhibit. “Those ads have been very iconic,” he said. “The Smithsonian Institution is doing a new exhibition called “American Enterprise” and they contacted us and said they really liked them because they’re about education, not about selling.”

cfc-20The ads have been featured in the Corn Farmers Coalition annual campaign which takes over every ad space in a single DC metro station for two weeks, a campaign that has been running for five years now.

The Smithsonian will include the ads in a new permanent exhibit scheduled to open next year in the Museum of American History. “It will last for 20 years and we anticipate about 90 million people seeing it,” Rick said.

In this interview on the final day of Classic, Rick also talks about the great corn grower response last year to commenting on the EPA proposal to gut the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and how NCGA plans to keep that momentum going. Interview with Rick Tolman, NCGA CEO



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