Corn Commentary

NCGA CEO Addresses FEW

few14-tolmanCall it the Rick Tolman Farewell Tour.

National Corn Growers Association CEO, Rick Tolman took the podium this past week for the last time as CEO of the National Corn Growers Association to address the general session at the Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Indianapolis. It was the 30th year for the workshop and during his remarks he commented on how things have changed in the past 30 years – from the acres of corn planted and bushels harvested to the gallons of ethanol produced and where things are headed in the future of the industry.

“It’s so exciting to see the tremendous growth the industry has made,” said Tolman. “We have so many ethanol plants now and it’s part of the mainstream, it’s in almost every gallon of gasoline across the country … and ten years ago that wasn’t the case … we’ve made tremendous progress.”

In an interview after his address at FEW, Tolman talked about this year’s corn crop, which is expected to be another record. Emergence pushed past the five-year average last week, according to the latest USDA report, and 75 percent of all acres are rated in good to excellent condition as of June 8.

Tolman says while we have planted a few less acres this year we continue to push through the 10-million bushel barrier that was so difficult to reach early in his 14-year tenure as NCGA CEO. He will be stepping down from that position at the end of September. Interview with NCGA CEO Rick Tolman

2014 Fuel Ethanol Workshop Photo Album

Getting More Ethanol Per Bushel

scott-kohlSomewhere between corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol is a midpoint that can be found in the corn kernel.

“Generation one is starch to ethanol and generation two is corn stover and grasses but there is cellulose in the corn kernel,” explained ICM, Inc. technical director Scott Kohl during a session last week at the Corn Utilization and Technology Conference. “That’s the Generation 1.5 – the fiber in the corn kernel.”

Kohl says ICM is developing processes to separate that fiber from the rest of the kernel to make more ethanol so that the yield from a single bushel of corn will increase. “We’ve run nearly 2,000 hours of pilot runs on that system,” he said. “We are now in the process of getting the financing arranged to have the first plant running by the middle of 2015.” Kohl says the process will raise the ethanol yield from corn by 10 percent and the distillers protein content will also increase.

At CUTC, Kohl also talked about new products from dry grind mills through ICM’s patent-pending Fiber Separation Technology (FST), which is precursor to the Gen 1.5 process. “In order to get the fiber ready for the Gen 1.5 process we have to separate and purify it,” he said. “With the new process (plants) are going to make ethanol, high protein, high fiber, and a lot more oil.”

Find out more in this interview: Interview with Steve Kohl, ICM


2014 CUTC Photo Album

In Battle Against Misinformation, Barbre Leads by Example

NCGA President Martin Barbre put pen to paper this week to correct an anti-ethanol article run by the St. Louis Post Dispatch. Taking decisive action to address the misinformation published, Barbre not only shed light on an important subject for readers but also led by example.

To read “Opinion Piece on Ethanol Gets Three Things Wrong,” click here.

So often, farmers see, hear or read fallacies about their industry perpetuated in the media. It is easy to fall victim to inertia. It is easy to get worked up among one’s peers. It takes greater effort and even a bit of hutzpah to speak out publicly, answering back critics in a respectful, well-considered manner. Yet, it is only in using your voices, your energy and your knowledge that you can become an advocate and shape the world around you.

Newspapers accept letters to the editor and opinion pieces every day. Likewise, calling the local television or radio newsroom producer can yield results too. So, take the initiative. Write a letter, offer to speak as an expert on a news program and provide a farmer’s point of view. The first step away from that resting position is the hardest; realize it gets easier from there.

Fight Back Against AAA

If the president of AAA had to take a true/false test on ethanol, he would probably score FFF.

According to AAA President & CEO Bob Darbelnet, “More than 90 percent of the vehicles on the road today are not approved by manufacturers to use E15, including most 2001-2013 models.” Notice how he carefully words this misrepresentation “not approved by manufacturers.” This is based on the owner’s manuals of the vehicles, which were all written before extensive testing proved that higher blends of ethanol are perfectly safe for them, allowing the government to approve the use of E15 blends in 2001 and newer vehicles.

aaa-cancelThis November 2013 statement by Darbelnet was used by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an article about Missouri approving the retail sale of E15 this month.

That made Missouri Corn Growers CEO Gary Marshall mad enough to cancel his 33-year membership with AAA and write a letter to Darbelnet explaining why and pointing out the facts.

“Approximately 80 percent of the vehicles on the road today are 2001 or newer and approved by the EPA to use the ethanol blend,” wrote Marshall. “In terms of possible engine damage, E15 is sold in 12 other states with no issues reported. We are unaware of AAA’s Roadside Assistance program picking up a single driver stranded alongside the road due to an engine issue caused by E15.”

If your organization is concerned about warranties, it should be noted E15 wasn’t approved by EPA when many vehicle owner’s manuals were written. Just like aftermarket fuel additives, such as stabilizers and octane boosters, specific fuels or additives are not always listed in a vehicle’s owner manual. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, use of these non-mentioned fuels and fuel additives does not necessarily void a vehicle warranty. In fact, vehicle manufacturers may not deny a warranty claim based on use of a different fuel if that fuel did not contribute to the problem for which the warranty claim is made.

Marshall informed Darbelnet that he is canceling his membership because he refuses “to support an organization so clearly aligned with the oil industry.” Every member of my family is also a long-time AAA member. I just used it last week when I was driving to Ft. Lauderdale with my oldest daughter to see my family and our car broke down halfway into a 10 hour trip. I’ve never had a problem with their service and it gives me great piece of mind to know that our daughters have someone to call if they have car trouble.

However, there are alternatives. According to Consumer Reports, there’s actually “an army of other businesses” offering roadside assistance plans – including insurance companies, carmakers, oil companies, credit-card issuers, even cell-phone service providers.

We’re looking at our options now and plan to cancel our AAA membership as soon as possible. No reason to support a company so outspokenly against a fuel we believe it and the farmers who make it possible.

Potential for Ethanol Exports to China

A trade mission to China last week revealed great potential for U.S. ethanol producers.

china1The USDA-led a mission to promote U.S. biofuels and agricultural product exports was part of President Obama’s “Made in Rural America” export and investment initiative, designed to help rural businesses and leaders take advantage of new investment opportunities and access new customers and markets abroad. Leaders from state departments of agriculture in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Washington participated in the mission, along with representatives from 28 U.S. biofuels and agriculture companies and organizations.

Growth Energy Chief Economist Jim Miller, who formerly served as USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, participated in the trip led by the current under secretary Michael Scuse. “Our goal was really to gauge what are the intermediate term opportunities to export ethanol to China, as well as to discuss the situation concerning our exports of distillers dried grains to China, which happens to be our largest export market for that commodity,” said Miller during a telephone press conference Tuesday regarding the mission.

National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson says the trip revealed that the potential ethanol export market in China is substantial. “Demand for ethanol is high, and domestic production meets less than half of their projected ethanol needs,” said Johnson. “However, in order to meet this demand, it is clear that we must first resolve some government regulatory and environmental issues.” Johnson added that there are issues with exports of the ethanol co-product distillers grains (DDGs) to China. “DDG exports to China will likely continue to be difficult and sporadic until China modifies its biotech approval process so it is comparable to that of the rest of the world,” he said.

Kelly Davis of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) was also on the trip. Listen to their observations here: China Mission Press Conference Opening Remarks

Reuters Reports Philly RFS Connection

philly-energyA story out today from Reuters claims that a major airline and a private equity firm with Philadelphia oil refinery connections are the main forces behind the Obama administration proposal to lower volume requirements for biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this year.

According to the article, it was The Carlyle Group and Delta Air Lines, owners of two refineries in the Philadelphia area, that put the pressure on the administration to cut back on biofuels requirements by convincing policymakers that “the rising mandates would cripple their businesses and threaten thousands of jobs.”

Just one of many interesting points made in the article is that in July and August of last year, “17 refiners and their allies visited the White House’s rulemaking arm, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to discuss the RFS. Only six biofuel supporters visited the OMB over the same time.” Reuters even produced a graphic to illustrate the comparison between visits by oil and ethanol lobbying interests last year.


Read the story here.

Follow the Anti-RFS Money

saudi-oilIs anyone really surprised to learn that Saudi oil money is helping to fund the effort by the American Petroleum Institute (API) to get rid of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)?

As if we needed proof, Americans United for Change and VoteVets.org revealed IRS documents this week showing that is the case. According to tax documents, Saudi Arabia has been a funder of API dating back to 2008 and an employee of Saudi Aramco – a company with an estimated worth of $7 trillion by Financial Times, actually held a seat on API’s board.

“API’s agenda is very simple and very greedy: they want EPA to cut the amount of renewable fuel in gasoline while raising the amount of crude oil,” said Americans United for Change president Brad Woodhouse. “This is about market share, plain and simple.” Saudi Oil Money Backing Ethanol Smear Campaign

Jon Soltz, Iraq War veteran and Chairman of VoteVets.org added, “There’s nothing “American” about the way the “American” Petroleum Institute is doing business. They’re fighting to block competition from U.S. businesses, and they’re doing it with Saudi Aramco’s trillions in oil dollars.”

To further drive home the point, Americans United for Change is launching a Sunday show TV blitz aimed at both the public, legislators and key decisions makers in the Beltway in an attempt to set the record straight. “The Kingdom” will air May 4, 2014 on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, This Week and Fox News Sunday in the Washington, D.C. market.

Whether this will make anyone take notice and question the motives of the oil industry in its quest to dismantle the RFS remains to be seen. Let’s hope so.

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.



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