Call from the Combine

In Farm Bill, General, Legislation, Policy by Cindy

Farmer PhoneThe National Corn Growers Association is urging its members nationwide to call their Senators on Thursday October 18 and talk to them about what they would like to see in the 2007 Farm Bill.

“Right now the committee is scheduled to markup the farm bill Oct. 23,” said NCGA President Ron Litterer. “This is the time to let our senators on the agriculture committee know that producers should decide whether to stay with the existing program or utilize a revenue program. It is important to give farmers an option to choose the safety net program that works best for them. Call from Combine is an excellent vehicle for making the voices of the grassroots heard.”

Members nationwide are asked to contact their senators and ask them to include an optional, state-based, revenue countercyclical program in the farm bill.

It is also important to note that the state-based revenue countercyclical program (RCCP) option will not cost additional federal dollars because participating farmers agree to changes in direct payments and in exchange will have a better risk management tool, more affordable crop insurance premiums and at higher levels of coverage.

For more information about Call from the Combine, go to www.ncga.com.

Introducing the Buckeye Renewable Fuels Association

In Audio, Ethanol, State Groups by Chuck

Map of Ohio Ethanol PlantsThe NCGA is a sponsor of the Cellulosic Ethanol Summit which concludes today in Washington, DC. I was on hand and learned a lot about where things stand when it comes to a new process to make ethanol.

While there I ran into Mike Wagner who has long been a leader in the corn industry, most recently with the Ohio Corn Growers. He says that there will soon be a number of ethanol plants in operation in Ohio. To help them and the biodiesel industry as well, he’s formed a new group called the Buckeye Renewable Fuels Association. Mike says the Ohio Corn Growers are playing a key role in the development of this organization.

Mike and I sat down to talk about BRFA. He says they’re just getting started and that there was a real need for an organization like this. BRFA will work on regulatory, legislative, promotional and educational issues of behalf of the industry. He says they’ve got 5 ethanol plants coming on line in the next 90 days with 2 or 3 more soon after that. Right now he encourages anyone wanting more information to contact the Ohio Corn Growers office. The new organization will hold it’s first board meeting later this year.

You can listen to my interview with Mike here: [audio:http://www.zimmcomm.biz/ethanol/cellulosic-summit-07-wagner.mp3]

Corn Numbers Tell Story

In Current News, Ethanol, Food vs Fuel by Cindy

The latest reports from USDA provide some interesting perspective on corn, ethanol and the whole food to fuel issue.

USDAOn Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s supply and demand forecast lowered its estimate of how much of this year’s corn harvest the ethanol industry would use by another 100 million bushels. It was the second straight month the forecast has been reduced reflecting lower indicated plant capacity utilization and lower returns for ethanol producers due to recent declines in ethanol prices and continued strength in corn prices.

This was no surprise to the trade, nor should it really be any surprise to anyone else. We are producing a bunch of ethanol right now and there is a glut in the market. Production is falling a bit short of demand at the moment, but market analysts expect that to change in the long term. “Over time in the next 12 months, if you look at the big picture, the trade would anticipate that ethanol usage would expand rather than contract,” said Brian Hoops with Midwest Market Solutions.

Another interesting note in the USDA report. While corn usage for ethanol is down 100 million bushels this month, exports are projected to be a corresponding 100 million bushels higher on tighter foreign grain supplies and strong export sales. At the projected 2.35 billion bushels, 2007/08 exports would be the highest in 18 years.

That means that we are still managing to supply grain for the world market even with increased ethanol production this year. The simple reason is increased yields. USDA’s objective yield data report in this month’s crop forecast indicates that the number of ears per acre in the ten biggest corn producing states is the highest on record, surpassing the previous record set in 2004. This despite less than ideal growing conditions.

So, corn usage for ethanol is lower than expected this year because the market is adjusting, corn exports are higher than ever, and corn yields are higher than ever. If you have ears, hear.

South Dakota’s Kernels of Truth

In Food vs Fuel, State Groups by Chuck

Kernals of TruthThe South Dakota Corn Utilization Council has started a program called “Kernels of Truth.” Here’s what it’s all about:

Kernels of Truth: Learn more about the facts behind food, fuel and farming in South Dakota. Prices at the grocery store are higher. But the truth is, corn prices have little effect on the retail price of food. Find out more about the costs associated with food production and why our leadership in ethanol production and dried distillers grains is a major reason why livestock producers across the state have a plentiful and economical source of feed. That helps keep food prices lower, not higher. Really.

The program got the attention of the Associated Press and their story was picked up by Forbes.com. On the SDCU website they’ve got a number of resources which can be used to help spread a few kernels of truth.

Corn Comic-tary

In Ethanol by Cindy

EPIC Comic 1EPIC Comic 2Here’s a cute little editorial cartoon that is appearing on a couple of ethanol-related websites.

According to sources, the artist’s name is Rich Stromwall, but the comic apparently doesn’t have any official name or anything. Just an attempt to use a bit of humor to deal with some of the anti-ethanol media reports.

Sometimes, you just have to laugh about it or you’ll go crazy!

Media Misses Point of NRC Report

In Current News, Environmental, Ethanol by Cindy

According to the Science Daily release on the National Research Council report “Water Implications of Biofuels Production in the United States” released today, “the committee that wrote the report examined policy options and identified opportunities for new agricultural techniques and technologies to help minimize effects of biofuel production on water resources.”

This would be a positive thing, as noted in responses from the National Wildlife Federation and the Renewable Fuels Association.

NWFNational Wildlife Federation Senior Program Manager for Agriculture and Wetland Policy Julie Sibbing says the report highlights the need for a new Biofuels Innovation Program in the next Farm Bill.

“The report notes that cellulosic biofuels, produced from native plants like switchgrass, should have less impact on water quality per unit of energy gained,” Sibbing said in a statement. “It suggests the adoption of public policies that encourage production of energy from cellulosic alternatives. America’s water resources will be under even greater pressure in a warming climate. Moving to non-irrigated, native crops to produce ethanol will go a long way towards helping to safeguard our water resources.”

RFARenewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen noted that the ethanol industry is already moving in many of the directions the study suggests.

“As this study accurately points out, U.S. ethanol producers are rapidly developing and implementing technologies that are improving the already green footprint of the industry,” Dinneen said. “Better efficiencies at today’s ethanol biorefineries are reducing water use, improving water recycling methods and utilizing wastewater supplies to further lessen the impact, if any, a biorefinery may have on local water supplies.”

Dinneen adds that the ethanol industry is evolving so rapidly it will be unrecognizable from its present form five years from now. “Technological evolutions will provide for more efficient use of natural resources like water, further reduce already low emissions from biorefineries, and allow us to produce ethanol from less resource-intensive sources in addition to grains.”

However, the media’s general take on the report was to focus on the “implications” – the scenario painted by the report assuming ethanol production continues on in its present form, using the current technology, and just producing more and more corn to make into ethanol – which is NOT going to happen. That’s missing the point. The study is focusing on the solutions, not the problems – as we all should.

Trading Places

In Current News, Exports, General, Trade by Cindy

The majority of U.S. agricultural organizations are strongly in favor of free trade, whether it be global or bilateral. The “level playing field” phrase is most often used as the reason for that support. Exports are a significant part of the agricultural economy of our nation, and therefore of the economy as a whole. According to USDA, agricultural exports hit a record $79 billion this year. Next year that number is projected to be $83 billion.

Currently, Congress has before it several pending free trade agreements – with Panama, Peru, Colombia and Korea. Recently, Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner outlined three main reasons why these agreements should be ratified by Congress.

Chuck Conner“First, U.S. agricultural exports currently face barriers to entering these markets. Although we allow more than 99 percent of the agricultural exports from Colombia, Panama and Peru to enter our market in the U.S. duty free, we have virtually no duty free access in their markets…

Secondly, not signing these agreements does not mean that we can maintain the status quo going forward. As other nations put free trade agreements in place, we stand simply to lose market share….

The third and final reason… is simple. It’s a simple message because free trade is simply a good thing. It does level the playing field, creates jobs, it allows for fair competition for U.S. producers, and it does capitalize on the strengths of the parties that are involved.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman noted that all of agriculture will see benefits from free trade with just the Peru, Colombia and Panama Trade Promotion Agreements. “These three agreements would increase U.S. agricultural trade by almost $1.5 billion once fully implemented,” said Stallman, “These gains would be spread across all sectors of U.S. agriculture, from livestock to fiber and from grains and oilseeds to fruits and vegetables.”

Former AFBF president Dean Kleckner says the benefit is doubled with Korea. “If Congress were to approve the four free-trade agreements currently on the table, these deals would generate more than $3 billion in additional sales for American farmers each year.”

Kleckner adds, “These trade agreements make economic sense. They’re worth enduring a little political aggravation.”

How is a Cow Like an Ethanol Production Plant

In Ethanol by Chuck

Nick BakerI can’t say I’ve ever pondered the question, “How is a cow like an ethanol production plant?” However, when I saw it on display at the World Dairy Expo I had to know.

Nick Baker, U. S. Dairy Forage Research Center was on hand to provide the answers which were spelled out on his display. Nick says that basically the cow’s rumen uses microbes to break down forage and feed into the energy it needs much like an ethanol plant which then converts the sugars produced into alcohol. So there you have it.

I asked him his take on the whole food vs. fuel debate and he believes as I do that there’s plenty of biomass available to not only meet food production needs but energy as well. He’s working on a project to utilize switchgrass in the production of ethanol and says the technology is available now to do so.

Listen to my interview with Nick here: Listen To MP3 Interview with Nick Baker (MP3)

Cellulosic: The Future is Now

In Ethanol by Cindy

Cellulosic SummitThe Cellulosic Ethanol Summit next week will highlight the great strides already being made in this field which is generally considered to be the future for ethanol.

At the event, leaders from the agricultural, industrial biotech, biorefinery developer and financial communities will gather to share their communities’ perspectives on what is needed to form an efficient and effective value chain to commercialize cellulosic ethanol production.

Chuck ConnerActing Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner will keynote the event and just last week he spoke at a media event sponsored by the Renewable Fuels Association about the future of cellulosic ethanol.

“The challenge before us is to find practical and cost effective ways to produce cellulosic ethanol from a whole variety of feedstocks depending upon what region of the country you are from,” said Conner. “That is going to require not only scientific breakthroughs, but innovative approaches to the logistical, planning and infrastructure challenges that cellulosic ethanol production brings.”

Conner talked about the importance of federal funding for biofuels research. “That is why the administration and the Department of Agriculture proposed $1.6 billion in new spending on research and development in the area of renewable fuels as part of this year’s Farm Bill debate,” he said. Some of the proposals were approved in the House version of the Farm Bill, but he noted that funding for the proposed Bioenergy and Biobased Product Research Initiative was not provided. “Obviously authority without funding doesn’t get you very far in terms of research, development and commercialization,” he noted.

Read the entire text of Conner’s speech here.

POETOne of the many companies working to make the cellulosic future a reality is POET of Sioux Falls, SD. The company just finalized a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy for a commercial cellulosic ethanol project in Emmetsburg, Iowa. POET representatives will be discussing the progress they are making with Project Liberty at the summit next week.

The Summit will be in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15-17. Among the sponsors for the event are the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council (EPIC), the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

Believe it – the future is now!

Transportation Conversation

In Current News, Transportation by Cindy

Corn growers took their concerns about transportation – both rail and river – to the Capitol this week.

First of all, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Ron Litterer formally asked President George W. Bush to sign the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA).

Litterer said, “After years of work and months of extensive negotiations, Congress has delivered a WRDA conference report that represents a meaningful and responsible legislative package, addressing issues such as environmental restoration, navigation, flood control, hurricane protection, water supply, irrigation and beach nourishment and recreation. Improvements in these areas will contribute mightily to the well-being of the nation, serving us well in the years to come.”

The White House reiterated the threat to veto WRDA this week, saying it is ”bloated” with political pork. The $23 billion package includes numerous projects around the country from the Everglades to California and has enough support in Congress to override a presidential veto.

Meanwhile, in testimony to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week, the corn growers told legislators the nation’s railroad freight system is providing “deteriorating service” to agricultural shippers.

In written testimony, NCGA said “service predictability is a huge issue. Determining when rail equipment will arrive at origin for loading, when it will be furnished locomotive power and when it will reach destination are increasing uncertainties. It is common to hear reports from agricultural shippers who experience wait times for rail cars exceeding 30 days. In a world of ‘just in time’ delivery, a 30-day wait for your product to be picked up is often unacceptable to your customers.”

Read all of NCGA’s testimony here.