New Report on Corn Ethanol Efficiency

In Environmental, Ethanol by Cindy

A new report shows that current corn-ethanol systems are much more energy efficient and have a much greater potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than previously published studies.

The report, “Improvements in Life Cycle Energy Efficiency and Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Corn Ethanol” was just released by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences Research and published in Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology (JIE).

Compared to the earlier studies, UNL’s research team utilized more recent data that better represent how the corn ethanol industry is currently performing. In particular, updated values were used for: (1) yields and inputs required for corn production, (2) energy requirements in the ethanol plant, and (3) a more accurate representation of how co-products are used in livestock diets.

As a result, the report concluded that “Direct effect GHG emissions were estimated to be equivalent to a 48% to 59% reduction compared to gasoline, a twofold to threefold greater reduction than reported in previous studies.” The report also found that the eight corn-ethanol scenarios had net energy ratio (NER) values from 1.29 to 2.23, meaning ethanol returned 29 to 123 percent more energy than was required for its production.

Goose Tales

In Environmental, Ethanol, Farming by Cindy

Corn could be the reason that that U.S. Airways flight landed in the Hudson River last week, according to Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute. Seriously?

Time Magazine this week blames global warming for more geese around airports leading to more airplane bird strikes, but Avery says, “Time reached the wrong conclusion. Research indicates we should blame the prosaic corn harvester-and perhaps our attempt to expand corn production for biofuels.”

He says that there has been a five-fold increase in the number of Canadian geese since 1970 because of the type of harvesting equipment used by corn farmers and because of the increase in corn acreage in the Northeast.

Meanwhile, farmers have been planting still more corn, on every possible corner of the eastern seaboard, to get their share of those ethanol subsidies. Corn planting expanded about 50 percent in the mid-Atlantic States from 2002-2006, according to Virginia Tech, with comparable increases in New York and Pennsylvania.

Avery’s solution to the problem of geese getting sucked into airplane engines is better bird-strike prevention and “more real goose research.”

MO Corn Co-Products Field Day

In Ethanol, Livestock, State Groups by Cindy

MO Corn field dayOver 125 cattlemen and livestock producers gathered on a the farm of a Missouri state senator last weekend to learn more about accessing, utilizing and storing the ethanol co-product distillers grains.

Many producers traveled from surrounding counties to attend the event at the south-central Missouri farm of Senator Frank Barnitz (D-Lake Spring). “We had a really big crowd with a lot of interest in corn co-products,” Sen. Barnitz said. “I think the economics from the cost of the feed and the quality that we’ve seen with cows on grass, distillers grains are a big benefit. When you buy a commercial product that costs 10 or 12 or 14 dollars a hundred weight versus something that costs about half that, the economics are certainly there to try to feed something of less cost yet equal quality.”

MO Corn field dayThe field day was sponsored by the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, University of Missouri Extension and South Ozarks Premier Beef Marketers, LLC. “This field day provided an excellent opportunity for livestock producers to see corn co-products utilized effectively in a beef backgrounding operation,” said Gary Wheeler, Missouri Corn director of business development. “We hope through field days like this one, we can help cattle producers add to their bottom line by incorporating the latest feeding and storage techniques for this high-quality feedstuff.”

The field day featured a tour of storage facilities, feeding equipment and a feedlot where ethanol co-products are currently being used and evaluated.

Growers Abroad

In General by Ken

A group of Midwest corn growers (from Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska) is on a two week “study tour” in Brazil and Argentina. Among the things learned:

With its climate, Brazil can actually grow two crops a year—which typically are soybeans (soja) and corn (milho). However, they are working to develop a triple-cropping system in which they plant grass with the corn. Once the corn is harvested, cattle are turned out on the grass as pasture. Naturally, those of us who fight grasses and weeds in cornfields wondered about the effect of the grasses on corn yields, but the value of the grass in terms of cattle production apparently overcomes the yield drag on the corn.

The trip ends Jan. 25, and you can enjoy the obeservations on their blog, here.

Corn Grower Named Agribusiness Leader

In Ethanol, Farming by Cindy

Greg GuentherThe St. Louis Agribusiness Club has honored Illinois farmer Greg Guenther with the 2008 Agribusiness Leader of the Year Award.

Greg has been a long-time leader in the corn growing world, having served eight years on the Illinois Corn Grower (ICGA) board and three years on the National Corn Growers board. He was recently honored by the ICGA with their World of Corn Award, which goes to individuals, organizations or businesses for making significant contributions to the corn industry. Greg is also head of GLB Consulting LLC, a company that provides seminars in bioenergy investing.

Chuck Zimmerman interviewed Greg last week when he received the award at the agribusiness club luncheon. They discussed a number of topics, including the new administration and what the future may hold for the ethanol industry. Greg expresssed concern about the trend toward “next generation” biofuels and what that will mean for farmers who have invested in increasing yield and production of corn to make ethanol.

You can listen to Greg’s interview here: [audio:]

New House Ag Committee Members

In General, government by Cindy

Collin PetersonUS House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson of Minnesota has announced the members of the committee for the 111th Congress.

The House Democratic Steering Committee has nominated 28 Democrats, including 11 freshmen Members and 17 returning Members, to serve on the House Agriculture Committee. The House Republican Conference has named 17 Republicans to serve on the Committee and has left one seat vacant.

See the entire list of committee members here.

Iowa Offers Value Added Grants

In New Products, State Groups by Cindy

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board is reactivating its Value-Added Grant Program to provide financial assistance to farmer-owned cooperatives, businesses, groups and individuals interested in establishing value-added corn-based businesses.

Iowa Corn Promotion Board“We’ve used these grants in the past for ethanol plant feasibility studies, a pilot project to turn PLA into milk bottles, marketing and business plans on distillers grains use as fertilizer, a project to test burning corn gas in corn dryers, and legal work to evaluate permits for livestock operations,” said Jerry Main, a grower from Fairfield and chair of the ICPB’s industrial usage committee.

Both new and established ventures are eligible for grants to pay for feasibility studies, business plan development, marketing plan development, engineering studies, legal fees and equity drives. Recipients can receive up to $25,000 on a 50-50 matching basis.

The application form is available on-line at the ICPB site. Completed applications will be evaluated by the Iowa Corn Industrial Usage & U.S. Production Committee, which will score them on criteria that include technical factors, business factors, management, potential economic impact on Iowa, viability, and risk.

Vilsack Confirmation Expected

In Farming, General, government, Media by Cindy

The country may get a new Secretary of Agriculture the same day we get a new president.

VilsackFormer Iowa governor Tom Vilsack’s confirmation hearing before the Senate went smooth as corn silk this week and he could be confirmed on Inauguration Day, according to Senate Ag Committee Chairman – and fellow Iowan – Tom Harkin.

Looking over the news reports about the hearing – the few that made it in the “main stream” as opposed to the farm media – I was struck by this line in the New York Times article:

His confirmation hearing comes as the farm economy is struggling after years of soaring prices fed by growing demand for exports and ethanol.

What is wrong with this sentence? First, “the farm economy is struggling” – like no other segment of the economy is struggling, and actually agriculture is doing much better than most despite lower prices. Second, “after years of soaring prices” – ummm, make that one year, maybe two at most.

Meanwhile, the Reuters report focused on the fact that Vilsack will take a pay cut to become ag secretary, like that’s really important.

I guess they had to find something to talk about, since Vilsack’s hearing was so – well, boring. The Miami Herald gave an extensive overview of Vilsack’s background (born in Pennsylvania to an unwed mother and a father whose name he still doesn’t know) and stressed his commitment to serving all of agriculture, including fruit and vegetable growing states like Florida. There seemed to be some minor concern that because Vilsack is from the Midwest he would only care about corn and soybean producers.

The hearing did cover a broad range of agricultural, conservation and nutrition related issues, all of which Vilsack basically said he would support. While he was somewhat short on specifics, he did admit he will have a lot to learn once he takes over at USDA.

Congress Urged to Invest in Agriculture

In Environmental, Ethanol, Farm Bill, Farming, government by Cindy

A diverse coalition of 34 business, agriculture and environmental groups, including the National Corn Growers Association, is asking Congressional leaders to support an economic recovery package that provides strong funding for agriculture-based, clean energy development programs.

25x'25The National 25x’25 Steering Committee and other renewable energy advocacy groups outlined a three part recommendation in a letter to Congressional leaders this week. The letter recommends including at least $1.2 billion each year in mandatory supplemental appropriations for important Farm Bill Energy Title programs; restructuring and extending the federal Production Tax Credits (PTC) for renewable energy, cellulosic biofuels, and biomass for five years; and extending and expanding successful clean renewable energy and conservation bond programs which provide PTC-like incentives for electric cooperatives, public power, and municipalities to build new renewable energy facilities and invest in energy efficiency.

“Our nation’s agriculture and forestry industries can not only provide a good portion of our overall energy supply, but also a new green energy future that will stimulate and reinvigorate our economy,” said Bart Ruth, chairman of the 25x’25 policy committee. “A small investment in rural America and clean, green energy development has the potential to provide a new economic foundation for the entire country.”

The coalition is largely made up of agricultural organizations, but also includes such groups as the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

Sustainability More Than Just Buzz Word

In Environmental, Farming, Sustainability by Cindy

Everyone talks about sustainability, a new report now provides a way to measure it.

KeystoneThe report released today by the Keystone Alliance, a diverse alliance of companies and organizations, has devised a definition of economic and environmental sustainability focusing on “meeting the needs of the present while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The Environmental Resource Indicators report was released at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting by Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

The Colorado-based Keystone Center examined five resource indicators: land use, soil loss, irrigation water use, net carbon emissions and energy use.

Corn growers in particular posted impressive gains, boosting per-acre productivity by 41 percent while reducing per-bushel land use by 37 percent, per-bushel soil losses by nearly 70 percent, and water use an average of 27 percent per bushel. Energy use dropped an estimated 3 percent per acre and 37 percent per bushel, with greenhouse gas emissions down 8 percent per acre and 30 percent per bushel.

Field to Market members include: American Farm Bureau Federation; American Soybean Association; Bayer CropScience; Bunge; Cargill, Incorporated; ConAgra Foods; Conservation International; Cotton Incorporated; DuPont; Fleishman-Hillard; General Mills; Grocery Manufacturers Association; John Deere; Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences; Mars, Incorporated; Monsanto Company; National Association of Conservation Districts; National Association of Wheat Growers; National Corn Growers Association; National Cotton Council of America; National Potato Council; Syngenta; The Coca-Cola Company; The Fertilizer Institute; Kellogg Company; The Nature Conservancy; United Soybean Board; and World Wildlife Fund.

Read the report here.