Corn Commentary

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

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



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