Corn Commentary

RFS for President!

The 2016 presidential campaign is starting to percolate and in Iowa the biofuels industry is making the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) their candidate.

americas-futureIowa Governor Terry Branstad last week announced a major new bi-partisan campaign called America’s Renewable Future that will promote the RFS to both candidates and caucus-goes for the 2016 Iowa Presidential caucuses.

“I’m very passionate about the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Governor Branstad during a conference call to announce the effort. “It’s made a real difference for farm income and good jobs, reducing our dependency on foreign oil, improving the environment – so I’m really excited to see this strong, bi-partisan effort being made to educate people that come to Iowa and presidential candidates.”

Coordinating the effort will be Governor Branstad’s son Eric, a public affairs specialist and campaign operative. “We have partners coming in from all over the country and those partners have committed millions to fund this effort,” said Eric Branstad. “We are designing it to look like a presidential campaign and the RFS is our candidate.”

America’s Renewable Future is co-chaired by former Iowa State Representative Annette Sweeney, a Republican, and former state Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge, a Democrat, as well as Iowa renewable fuels industry leader Bill Couser. The effort “will wage a mulitimillion dollar, multi-platform effort” to educate presidential candidates about the benefits of the RFS and ask them to take a stand.

That effort kicked off last Friday with an ad in the Des Moines Register as potential Republican presidential candidates began to gather for the Iowa Freedom Summit.

Still, the RFS went largely unmentioned during the Saturday summit. Asked about the RFS in an interview with the Des Moines Register on Friday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said he would continue his opposition to the law as “a matter of principle.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was the only one who showed up at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit on Tuesday, even though all potential candidates were invited, and he did show his support for the RFS, calling it “pro-environment, pro-competition and pro-American jobs.”

Gov. Branstad says Iowa is still an important state for a presidential candidate and the RFS is important to Iowa. “This is one of the battleground states that’s going to, I think, determine who’s going to be the next president of the United States,” said Branstad. “I think it would be a disadvantage in Iowa to not support the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Branstad said.

Welcoming the New Congress

ncga-rodneyThe National Corn Growers Association spent Tuesday on Capitol Hill this week, welcoming the 114th Congress to Washington and talking up the importance of agriculture to the American economy.

“We are here to welcome the new Congress, and to encourage them to work together with one another and the Obama Administration to advance policies that help agriculture and family farmers,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling, pictured here with Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). “I was encouraged not only by the warm reception we received, but also a hope that lawmakers will set aside past divisions, find common ground, and get things done.”

After overcoming the challenge to his bid for re-election as Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio used a very agricultural metaphor to urge Democrats and Republicans to work together. “Every day you and I come here, try to cultivate good seeds, and take care of the pests. And then with patience, sacrifice, and God’s grace, there will be a harvest,” said Boehner. “Let’s make this a time of harvest.” Speaker John Boehner harvest quote

NCGA executive vice president Jon Doggett notes that you have to plant a crop and nurture it before you harvest it. “I think there will be a lot of actions taken in the first few months of this Congress that will set the tone as to whether or not we’re really going to be able to harvest anything at the end of this Congress,” said Doggett.

With the latest farm bill being implemented, Doggett says corn growers are mostly concerned with protecting what they have during the budget reconciliation process. “We may see some attacks on Title 1 of the farm bill (and) on the crop insurance program,” he said. “Both have piles of money that folks will want to rob.”

Doggett talks about opening day for the 114th Congress and priorities for corn growers in this interview: Interview with NCGA Executive VP Jon Doggett

Father of Ethanol Award

ace14-merle-collinThe American Coalition for Ethanol meeting in Minneapolis last week honored Congressman Collin Peterson of Minnesota with its highest award for supporters of ethanol, the Merle Anderson Award.

Anderson, a co-founder of ACE and known to many as the “Father of Ethanol,” proudly presented the award to his congressman. “Farmers have probably tripled their net worth in the last ten years,” said Anderson, giving credit to Peterson for getting farm bills passed. “I don’t think you’d have had a farm bill the last two farm bills if you wouldn’t have had Collin Peterson.”

Merle Anderson Presents Award to Rep. Collin Peterson

Peterson helped to pass the energy bill with the Renewable Fuel Standard and remains a strong supporter of ethanol in Congress. “It’s just been a tremendous success story in agriculture because it’s changed the marketplace so farmers can get a decent price for their corn,” he said. “We do have our opponents and they are still working to undermine things,” he continued.”They want to go back to $1.85 corn and I tell them if they are successful they will rue the day because nobody can grow corn for $1.85.” Peterson says the only way farmers survived when prices were $1.85 a bushel was because of the government subsidy “and that’s gone.”

Peterson remains hopeful that the EPA will eventually come out with a better final rule on the 2014 volume obligations for the RFS. “I think the fact that they delayed this for now a third time shows they are listening,” he said. “It appears to me that they realize they made a mistake here and they’re trying to figure out how to undo it.” He thinks it could be next year before the rule is final, but “a delayed decision is better than a bad decision.”

In this interview, Peterson also comments on WOTUS, farm bill implementation, immigration, and more. Interview with Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) at ACE Conference

27th Annual Ethanol Conference photo album

Corn Growers Have Busy Week in DC

2014-corn-congressMembers of the National Corn Growers Association had a busy week in the nation’s capital last week – hearing from and meeting with administration officials and lawmakers, saying goodbye to retiring industry leaders, and inspiring new young leaders.

I talked with NCGA president Martin Barbre today about what all they did last week and we only scratched the surface. One of the highlights was an update from EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe on the proposed Waters of the United States rule. “NCGA is taking the position that yes, we are opposed to the interpretive rule and yes, we think the rule itself needs to be changed immensely, but we want to work with EPA and see if we can’t put our stamp on that to make it better for farmers and still work for the environment,” said Barbre.

NCGA members also wanted to know when they might hear from EPA on a final rule for 2014 volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “The number needs to be out,” Barbre said. “Hopefully it will be good for us when it comes down to it.”

ncga-zimmermanThe week in DC also included updates from NCGA action teams and committees on a variety of topics, such as ethanol, biotechnology, government regulation and trade. Delegates also re-elected four board members and elected one new one last week. Re-elected were Bob Bowman of Iowa, Lynn Chrisp of Nebraska, Kevin Skunes of North Dakota and Paul Taylor of Illinois and new to the board is Jim Zimmerman of Wisconsin. Jim is no relation to this Zimmerman, but I did interview him last October at the Truth About Trade and Technology (TATT) Global Farmer Roundtable.

There were quite a few good-byes said to corn industry members who are retiring this year, including Don Hutchens of the Nebraska Corn Board, Marsha Stanton of Monsanto, and Don Borgman with John Deere – as well as NCGA CEO Rick Tolman, who received a special tribute.

NCGA members also spent some time on the Hill talking with their lawmakers about important issues and Barbre presented NCGA’s 2014 President’s Award to Representative John Shimkus (R-IL).

Finally, last week graduated the inaugural class of the NCGA DuPont New Leaders Program, which Barbre says included some enthusiastic new young people for the future of the industry.

Listen to my interview with Martin here: Interview with NCGA president Martin Barbre

Check out pictures from the event in the NCGA Flickr photo album.

EPA Chief Hopes RFS Rule Coming “Soon”

epa-mccarthyA final rule on the volume obligations for this year under the Renewable Fuel Standard is taking longer than expected, but Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy says they want to get it right.

“I’m hoping it will come out soon,” she said during a press conference on agricultural issues this week. Explaining about the delay in releasing the final rule, which was expected by the end of June, McCarthy said it has become clear that there is concern “not only about what the volumes of the fuels are but the way in which we are adjusting those volumes.”

McCarthy stressed that the administration “continues to have a strong commitment to biofuels” and they want to make sure the final rule “clearly reflects that interest.”

“My goal is always to make sure we get it right,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy explain here: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on RFS rule release

Corn Fiber is Pathway to Cellulosic Ethanol

quad-countyThe very first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol gallons flowed from the Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) distillation unit in Galva, Iowa this week, made from a “bolt-on” process that allows a plant to convert the kernel’s corn fiber into cellulosic ethanol, in addition to traditional corn starch ethanol.

“Our Adding Cellulosic Ethanol (ACE) project will not only increase our plant’s production capacity by 6 percent, but it will also continue to boost energy security and provide consumers with more low-cost, cleaner-burning ethanol without adding any additional corn to the production process,” said QCCP CEO Delayne Johnson, who also noted the new technology will improve the plant’s distillers grains (DDGs) co-product. “As a result of the new process, the DDGs will be much more similar to a corn gluten meal. It will increase the protein content of the livestock feed by about 40 percent, and we also expect to see a boost in corn oil extraction by about 300 percent,” he said.

corn-cobsOddly enough, within 24 hours after Quad County made that announcement, the Environmental Protection Agency gave its final blessing to allow crop residue such as corn fiber to qualify as a fuel pathway for the production of cellulosic biofuel. EPA decided that crop residue actually does meet the lifecycle greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirements for cellulosic biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) provided that “producers include in their registration specific information about the types of residues which will be used, and record and report to EPA the quantities and specific types of residues used.”

“Cellulosic ethanol and corn ethanol are not mutually exclusive,” says Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “There are synergies that will make the production of both at existing facilities very attractive.”

Cellulosic ethanol is no longer a “phantom fuel” and corn is helping it become a reality.

Hillary Clinton Favors Biotech Crops

hillary-bioHillary Clinton seems to be everywhere these days and this week she spent over an hour at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention in San Diego chatting with BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood, a former congressman from Pennsylvania.

The wide ranging discussion touched on a variety of topics, including agricultural biotechnology. Greenwood asked Mrs. Clinton where she stood on the use of genetically modified crops. “I stand in favor of using seeds and products that have a proven track record,” said the former first lady, adding that the case needs to be made for those who are skeptical. “There is a big gap between what the facts are and what the perceptions are,” she said, receiving applause from the packed crowd that included as many as possible of the 15,000 attendees at the convention.

Clinton noted that focusing on the benefits in terminology of the crops could help. “Genetically modified sounds ‘Frankensteinish’ – drought resistant sounds really like something you want,” she said.

Hear all of Clinton’s ag biotech comments here. Hillary Clinton at BIO convention

WRRDA Flows Out of Conference

wrrdaThe long-awaited Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) conference report was released by House and Senate negotiators on Thursday, to the great relief of agricultural interests and others who wondered if they would ever see the day.

Conference committee member Congressman Rodney Davis (R-IL) is pleased with the final outcome. “The conference report I believe is a well balanced piece of legislation that takes into consideration the Senate needs and the House needs,” Davis said. “I’m just excited to get this bill across the finish line – the first one since 2007.”

The legislation is designed to “strengthen the nation’s transportation network, keep America competitive in the global marketplace, and reform and streamline the way we move forward with improvements to our ports, locks, dams, and other water resources infrastructure.” Davis expects the conference report to pass both houses of Congress with little opposition. “And we’ll chalk it up as a success in bi-partisanship and move on to other work that we’ve got to get done,” he added. The legislation is expected to come to the floor next week.

Listen to our interview with Rep. Davis here: Rep. Rodney Davis interview on WRRDA

Happy Tax Day!

Seriously, who says that? Nobody, that’s who. Still, it’s one of those two sure things in life – but the other one only happens to us once while taxes happen every year!

apr15Taxes were appropriately part of the agenda last week during hearings and press conferences on Capitol Hill.

During a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on tax issues, American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman testified that long-standing tax provisions should be made permanent, including Section 179 small business expensing which allows farmers and ranchers to expense certain purchases of assets. “Farm Bureau supports maintaining that with a cap of $500,000 per year. In other words, you could buy up to $500,000 worth of assets and be able to expense that amount in the first year, which would certainly help you bear the brunt of getting those assets to use in your business,” said Stallman.

That 500-thousand dollar break expired at the end of last year, along with many other provisions, but House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan has said he is open to making some of them permanent. “We’re the only country in the world that has big pieces of its tax policy that expires, we now call those extenders,” said Camp. “We literally let them expire for a year, then we retroactively put them in place and then they go forward a year.”

During an Americans for Tax Reform press conference after that hearing, Camp indicated he thought the expensing provision should be among those to be made permanent. “Some items are very good, whether it’s the expensing issue or research and development tax credit,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to work on those and have markups in committee to see which of these policies we can make permanent.”

More “extenders” include tax credits for biodiesel, advanced biofuels and wind energy, which are now part of Senate legislation recently passed out of the finance committee.

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



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