American Chronicle Commentary

In Ethanol by Cindy

There is an interesting, if quite rambling, commentary in the American Chronicle written by Stafford “Doc” Williamson, who is a “consultant, writer and president of a small company with very diversified interests in a wide range of fields.”

Doc makes a variety of points, starting out with saying that the efficiency, or lack thereof, of ethanol production “doesn’t matter.” He compares it to rocket fuel, which is a new angle. He writes:

How much energy it takes to make rocket fuel is irrelevant to considerations of weight and thrust that can be attained. If rocket fuel takes 10 times or a 1000 times as much energy to produce as it contains, it is what it is because it needs to be that compact and lightweight in order for the vehicle to lift itself beyond the bounds of earth’s gravity. If the rocket fuel doesn’t do that, it is NOT rocket fuel, it is something else

That’s really the perspective we have to get across to the nay-sayers on the efficiency issue of ethanol. Granted, we don’t really want to expend 10 units of fossil fuels to produce one unit of renewable fuels. But at this point some of the manufacturing processes, like making a tractor, are too remote from us to have a significant impact of the percentage of fossil fuels used in that process. Yet, there is no reason that one has to assume that the tractor itself is burning fossil energy while it is planting or harvesting a bioenergy crop. It could just as easily be using biobutanol (without modifications to the typical gasoline engine tractor) or biodiesel (for diesel engine tractors). If it “isn’t”, it can be argued, that is partly a matter of the alternative fuel availability which will never change if we block the creation of the alternative fuel by complaining it is “inefficient”.

Doc then goes off on several tangents involving a refrigerator from Sears, methane from livestock and permafrost in the Arctic. He finally lands on the topic of ADM investing in biodiesel production in Brazil and compares Brazilian subsidies for biodiesel production with the US “ethanol subsidy” - although he does not clarify what he means by subsidy - whether it is the tariff on imports or incentives for blenders, or what.

Let’s contrast just for a moment the biodiesel subsidy in Brazil to the ethanol subsidy in the USA. The factor they have in common is not the feedstock, it is ADM being the biggest player on the field. Did the subsidy created in the US federal Farm Bill require ADM to build roads, or clear shipping channels, or provide new storage facilities before the ethanol subsidy was put into effect? Does it limit the applicability of the ethanol subsidy to sources originating on small, financially struggling, family farms? Whose legislators end up looking more responsive and responsible to their electorate?

And then he talks about Richard Branson’s Virgin Group investing in biobutenol. Like I said, quite a ramble, but some interesting points.

Read it all here.

Iowa Corn Recognizes Corn Month

In State Groups by Chuck

Iowa Corn Promotion BoardThe Iowa Corn Promotion Board is recognizing September as Corn Month by issuing several news releases. They’re reminding consumers about the economic importance of Iowa corn and the many products that use corn.

Here’s an excerpt from their first release titled, “The Straight Story: Iowa’s Corn Crop Delivers Food, Feed, and Fuel.”

Iowa corn growers harvest nearly two billion bushels of corn each year, or about seven percent of the world’s total production. With increased demand for corn, Iowans have planted 13 percent more acres of corn this year. That crop is then transformed into livestock products that put protein on the world’s dinner plates, ethanol that fuels more cars and thousands of other essential ingredients and products. Corn is used in more than 4,000 food and non-food products and Iowa’s farm sector supplies nearly $15 billion to the state economy each year.

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) believes that agriculture will continue to meet the nation’s growing demand for both food and fuel. In addition to farmers planting more corn acres, new studies shatter the myths about the relationship between the price of corn, ethanol production and food prices.

Farm Progress Show Musings

In Current News by Chuck

The holiday weekend caught up to us before we could get the following thoughts from the Farm Progress Show, held in Decatur, IL, posted at the end of last week. However, they’re still relevant. Thanks to Lou Malnassy, NCGA, for sending them along.

At a time when high-speed internet connections have tied growers and their suppliers closer together than ever before, the idea of thousands of people traveling to a farm show may seem out of date. In fact, say two National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) officers, today’s farm shows are better than ever.

“Farm shows are still the best way to get a look at all the new technologies,” said NCGA First Vice President Ron Litterer. “I’ve seen new seeds, new implements and many other things here for the very first time.”

Despite his exposure to new products and ideas, Litterer was impressed by what he’s seeing at this year’s Farm Progress Show, in Decatur, Ill.

“We’re seeing developments in biotechnology and genetics that are still several years away from being introduced,” he says.” There’s nothing like a farm show for that type of preview.

NCGA First Vice President-elect Bob Dickey sees the appeal of shows extending beyond agriculture.

“These shows attract the attention of non-farmers as well as farmers,” he explains. “They’re an opportunity to educate consumers about agriculture.”

Litterer and Dickey also agree that the shows provide a rare opportunity to meet and talk with fellow growers. Litterer sees the general mood as upbeat. “Weather is always a concern, but early harvest figures among those attending have been very good, and growers are generally pleased,” he says.

Dickey agrees. “These are exciting times,” he says. “You can feel that here.”

An Oasis For Food and Fuel

In General by Chuck

Illinois Convenience StoreThis was too good a photo to pass up coming out of the Farm Progress Show. This convenience store is on Hwy. 48 just north of Decatur, IL and less than a mile from what many people call the “Super Bowl of Farm Shows.”

Somehow the title says it all. We can have food and fuel if we want to. If you could see the area around this store you’d see corn and soybean fields. It truly is an oasis of food and fuel!

The large annual farm show featured the products and technology from many companies who are working to make agricultural production more efficient not only to produce food but also fuel which will not only lessen our dependence on foreign oil but also improve our environment.

NCGA Past President Wins Inaugural Award

In General by Chuck

Leon CorzineProducing more from every acre while reducing the environmental footprint on the farm are the hallmarks of U.S. farming today, says Leon Corzine, past NCGA president and one of five recipients to receive the new Abraham Lincoln National Agriculture Award. Leon received the inaugural award at the Farm Progress Show, in Decatur, Ill. for his efforts on behalf of technology.

For those of you know Leon, you know that he’s a champion for the contributions of the American farmer. He was recognized for his national involvement to promote and adopt biotechnology in agriculture, advocacy for a governmental standard for the use of renewable fuels which led to aggressive market demand for ethanol, plus additional technological developments in grain storage, in export shipping containers, as well has his leadership for new locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. All in days work, huh, Leon?

Abraham Lincoln National Agriculture AwardBrownfield Network’s Tom Steever, caught up with Leon at the Farm Progress Show (mp3). “We really have changed things in rural America and across the country. We have done things to make our country better, I truly feel…Every time, the American farmer has stepped up to the plate.”

Other award recipients are John Block, an Illinois farmer and former U.S. ag secretary; Jim Evans, a University of Illinois agricultural communications professor emeritus; Congressman J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; and John Huston, executive vice president emeritus of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA).

Hats off to you, Leon, and the other award winners; America is better off because of your efforts.

You can also listen to an interview I conducted with Leon at the Show after receiving his award: [audio:]

Rolling Stone Gathers Dross

In Ethanol, General by Cindy

The Merriam-Webster definition of “dross” includes words such as “scum,” “waste,” “impurity,” “something that is base, trivial or inferior.” All of that applies to the article in last month’s “Rolling Stone” magazine The Ethanol Scam: One of America’s Biggest Political Boondoggles.

Peppered with choice four-letter words, the article is a re-hash of every criticism about ethanol there is, with no balance and no responsible alternative to suggest.

Where to start? Okay, let’s start with subsidies. According to the Stone, Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 — twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans.

One might ask the author if he has any clue how the federal farm programs actually work. One might also ask if he knows that in 2006, those subsides (which are mostly deficiency payments paid by the government when corn prices fall short of break-even) fell substantially. Why? Because the prices rose to the point where farmers were actually making money on the crop without government assistance.

moss stoneSo much of the article is blah, blah, blah - we have heard all this before and there is no way to argue with these people because they believe what they want to believe. They won’t accept that ethanol production continues to become more efficient, for example. They are convinced we will never be able to produce cellulosic ethanol to help meet the Congressional mandate of 36 billion gallons by 2012 when corn ethanol can only hope to come up with 15 billion gallons.

Stone says The remaining 21 billion gallons will have to come from advanced biofuels, most of which are currently brewed only in small-scale lab experiments. “It’s like trying to solve a traffic problem by mandating hovercraft,” says Dave Juday, an independent commodities consultant. “Except we don’t have hovercraft.”

And the Stone, like most ethanol critics, pooh-poohs the idea that we could “only” replace seven percent of our current energy needs with ethanol. What’s wrong with that? What is wrong with producing at least SOME of our energy here in the United States, keeping the money at home instead of sending it to countries that hate us?

The Stone completely discounts the idea that cellulosic ethanol, “even if the engineering hurdles can be overcome,” will ever become a reality for reasons like logistics and land use - and because it would mean “wrestling the future away from Big Corn.”

“It’s pretty clear to me that the corn guys will use all their lobbying muscle and political power to stall, thwart and sidetrack this revolution,” says economist C. Ford Runge.

Really? Runge obviously has not talked with anyone in the corn ethanol industry, all of whom are promoting the future of cellulosic ethanol. Growers are investing in plants with the firm idea that other feedstocks will be used in the future - and they can grow them too!

It’s unfortunate that we even have to respond to these kinds of attacks that are going on relentlessly. But, make no mistake, the reason ethanol is being attacked so viciously is BECAUSE it is good and it is right. Stand firm, make sure the facts get out there and people don’t blindly believe this kind of dross.

Incidentally, Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen did take the time and effort to respond to the Stone article with a letter to the editor, which was subsequently lambasted by the article’s author. In the middle of it all is a blogger by the name of Robert Rapier - a UK oil-industry engineer and contributor to “The Oil Drum” blog - whom Rolling Stone author Jeff Goodell used as a source for many of his claims about ethanol. Dinneen challenged the “energy blogger’s” figures and in turn has been challenged to a debate by Mr. Rapier. To my knowledge, Mr. Dinneen has yet to take up the offer, but I think he should - somebody should. We can’t sit back and be weenies and keep taking this lying down.

New Plant Produces Fuel AND Food

In Ethanol, Food vs Fuel, General by Cindy

LifeLine Foods is opening a new generation ethanol plant in St. Joseph, Missouri that could eventually put to rest the whole “food versus fuel” issue.

The facility features a mill in the front of the plant that separates the corn kernel into fiber, protein and starches. This technique enables increased utilization of the starch within the kernel. The resulting higher quality starches will be used for food products while the lower quality starches will be used to produce ethanol.

In addition, the plant utilizes the fiber in the corn kernel to produce energy. This process reduces the plant’s dependence on natural gas and allows the plant to generate its own fuel.

lifeline bannerKen McCauley of White Cloud, Kansas is one of the plant’s 600 farmer-owners. He is also president of the National Corn Growers Association and he says this plant is a new innovation in the ethanol industry. “When you talk about food and fuel, this is the epitome of it,” said McCauley. “It’s the perfect answer to somebody who says you’re just taking food and making fuel. No, we’re not. We’re making the most out of every kernel of corn.”

McCauley explains how it works. “This is the perfect fractionation process because you’re breaking it down at the front end. So, you’re actually getting the germ out, which is the corn oil. You’re also taking the endosperm out and you’re getting what we call snack grits, that make the snack products. What’s left is starch, already broken down and ready to make ethanol.” Finally you have a high protein product leftover.

The slogan for LifeLine’s plant is “Fueling America, Feeding the World” and McCauley says it’s important for agriculture to step up and start defending itself against the critics of ethanol. “There’s nobody going hungry in the world because of ethanol,” he says.

Bill Becker, CEO of LifeLine, says using the fiber to create energy for the plant is also a major part of the equation. “One of the misnomers about the ethanol industry is that it takes more energy to produce it,” he says. “That might have been true 35 years ago but there’s been great strides in efficiency. And I believe we will continue to see improved efficiencies to the point that the fiber will supply 100 percent of our energy needs (in the plant). And I think that’s within 2-3 years.”

LifeLine produces ingredients for dry cereal, snacks and tortillas. Some of the flour they produce has been distributed around the world in the Food for Peace program through USDA.

LifeLine Foods Ethanol Plant Opening Flickr Photo Album

Monsanto Renewable Fuels YouTube Video

In Biotechnology, Ethanol, Food vs Fuel by Chuck

Consumers have a growing amount of online information that provides them with good science based information to make better choices, especially when it comes to new energy choices. We’re going to point to them whenever and wherever we find them.

Take for example a YouTube video from Monsanto that helps provide some positive perspective for food and fuel. It’s titled, “Renewable Fuels: From Farm To Fuel Pump.” This 6 minute video reviews how “Ethanol and Biodiesel can offer benefits to consumers and farmers.” The video features comments from NCGA’s CEO Rick Tolman who talks about increasing yields and the productivity of America’s corn growers.

Another View of Food vs. Fuel

In Food vs Fuel, State Groups by Chuck

Illinois Corn GrowersA commentary from the Illinois Corn Growers earlier this week points to an interesting piece on Cattle Network titled, “Jolley: Five Minutes With Terry, Francl, American Farm Bureau Federation.”

Here’s how IL Corn starts it out:

The price of a bushel of corn and its effect on the price of just about everything else has created more nonsense on both sides of the argument than anything since Walt Disney was a pup. Is it a food vs. fuel proposition? Does converting corn to ethanol so we can feed the gas tanks of America steal food from starving Africans? Maybe shipping cheap corn to Chad actually prevents that nation from developing an Ag base that can grow its own food. (So begins a story and interview on “The Cattle Network” website today.

Check it out and see what you think!

Could Biofuels Benefit the World’s Hungry?

In Environmental, Ethanol, Food vs Fuel, Sustainability by Cindy

Now here’s a story that flies in the face of the whole food versus fuel flap.

Worldwatch Institute, “an independent research organization that works for an environmentally sustainable and socially just society,” has just authored a new book called Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Energy and Agriculture.

In it, the authors make the startling claim that the increase in world agriculture prices caused by the global boom in biofuels could benefit many of the world’s rural poor.
World Watch Institute
“Decades of declining agricultural prices have been reversed thanks to the growing use of biofuels,” says Christopher Flavin, president of the Institute. “Farmers in some of the poorest nations have been decimated by U.S. and European subsidies to crops such as corn, cotton, and sugar. Today’s higher prices may allow them to sell their crops at a decent price, but major agriculture reforms and infrastructure development will be needed to ensure that the increased benefits go to the world’s 800 million undernourished people, most of whom live in rural areas.”

The book also concludes:

Growth in biofuels production may have unexpected economic benefits, according to the experts who contributed to the report. Of the 47 poorest countries, 38 are net importers of oil and 25 import all of their oil; for these nations, the tripling in oil prices has been an economic disaster. But nations that develop domestic biofuels industries will be able to purchase fuel from their own farmers rather than spending scarce foreign exchange on imported oil.

The book does say that current biofuels production methods do place a burden on land and water resources but says “the long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstock, including agricultural and forestry wastes, as well as fast-growing, cellulose-rich energy crops such as perennial grasses and trees.”

“Biofuels alone will not solve the world’s transportation-related energy problems,” the authors conclude. “Development of these fuels must occur within the context of a transition to a more efficient, less polluting and more diversified global transport sector. They must be part of a portfolio of options that includes dramatc improvements in vehicle fuel economy, investment in public transportation, and better urban planning.”

Read more here.