Archive for April, 2010

Growers in the southern tier to finish planting earlier than expected

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Growers across the southern tier of Minnesota have finished planting corn or anticipate being done within the week—in a more typical year many would just be starting to plant the third week in April.

“This is the second year in row that it’s been early,” said corn producer Jerry Demmer, a member of the Minnesota Corn Promotion Council who farms in Clarks Grove, about 90 miles directly south of the Twin Cities. “In a typical year, if you can get in and get started by the 25th it’s fantastic—this year a lot of people will be done by the 25th.”

Further to the east, Lori Feltis reported that she and her husband, Clifton were finishing corn planting Monday (April 19) on their farm near Stewartville in Olmsted County. Their seed dealership business gives them a good idea when most of the planting in the vicinity is taking place.

“We have folks in the neighborhood who have 2,500 acres in the ground—it’s been great planting conditions,” said Feltis, who is secretary of Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council. “We’re expecting to see the corn poking out by Friday (the 22nd), for sure.  It’s been dry, almost too dry—we could use a shot of rain. In a typical year we’d be starting on the 20th and hope to have all the corn in by May 1.“

Feltis noted that they waited until April 12 to plant, to assure full crop insurance coverage. Some in the neighborhood didn’t wait, because of the ideal planting conditions, she said. Soil temperatures measured 48 degrees Fahrenheit on the 12th and everything has germinated. On Monday they got readings of 56 degrees at two inches—where the seed sits, and 52 degrees at four inches, showing that the tap root can begin to grow down already. Activity takes place above 50 degrees.

Heading west across the southern tier, in Redwood County, DeVonna Zeug reported being two-thirds finished with corn planting early last week, with excellent conditions to get things finished quickly. Zeug, who is president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association, was able to break away to speak at the University of Minnesota Ag Awareness Day last Tuesday, because things were so well in hand on their farm in Walnut Grove.

Also in the western part of the southern tier, Myron “Mickey” Peterson, who farms in Sacred Heart, Renville County, reported he would be finished planting corn Tuesday morning, April 20. Peterson is chairman of Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council Perhaps he would have been finished Monday afternoon, except he and his wife Janice decided to take a break to go and visit their grandchild, born on Monday.

“We were going to finish two weeks ago, but we had to wait because of all the wind, so we didn’t want to do fertilizer,” said Peterson. “We’ve had beautiful planting conditions, but we’d like to get half an inch of rain shortly. In western Renville, I’d say we’re about 80 percent done planting corn. Now, we’ve got some 1/8-inch sprouts on what we planted two weeks ago—shows it was warm enough. A year ago we started on the 16th—it was dry last year too. This year, we started on the 12th, and it was the earliest we’ve ever started.”

In Lincoln County, by the South Dakota border, Tim Dritz reported getting started April 16, and was about halfway through about four days into planting his corn. Dritz is vice president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

“This is a week or two earlier than normal for corn planting here,” said Dritz.   “Things are drying out nicely and starting to look good. Everyone’s gotten a good start. Just a few more days and everyone should be done.”

State of Minnesota (Bureau of Weights and Measures) advises consumers on gasoline and ethanol

(from the State of Minnesota Website)

Minnesota’s ethanol mandate helps reduce our reliance on imported petroleum.

  • Nearly all gasoline sold in Minnesota is blended with 10% ethanol, which allows us to offset our demand for gasoline by 10 percent.
  • Governor Pawlenty signed legislation in 2005 that will double the amount of ethanol in gasoline in Minnesota.  Under the legislation, a new E-20 mandate would take effect in 2013 unless ethanol has already replaced 20 percent of the state’s motor vehicle fuel by 2010.
  • The use of Ethanol and E85 fuel reduces harmful emissions and keeps more of our money in our state. (E85 is a blend of 85% Ethanol and 15% gasoline; traditional gasoline in Minnesota contains 10% Ethanol)

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Weights & Measures Division is responsible for enforcing consumer protections in the gasoline industry.
Gas pumps are regularly checked for accuracy to make sure consumers are getting what they pay for.

Every day, field inspectors perform random testing of the quality of the gasoline sold at gas stations across the state. Tests include octane, cetane, oxygenates and sulfur content.

What consumers can do
While an individual may not be able to influence the price of gasoline at the pump, there are things you can do to reduce your gasoline consumption and costs.

Improve your vehicle’s gas mileage.

  • Keep the tires properly inflated. Under-inflated tires force the engine to work harder.
  • Follow the speed limit. The faster you drive, the poorer your gas mileage.
  • Keep your car tuned up. Even a bad spark plug can greatly reduce mileage.
  • Keep the windows closed and use the air conditioner at highway speed to reduce drag. In stop-and-go city traffic, shut off the air conditioner and open the windows.
  • Drive at a smooth speed. Avoid sudden, fast acceleration.

Choose renewable fuel blends when available.

  • Nearly all gasoline in Minnesota contains 10 percent ethanol, reducing our reliance on foreign petroleum.
  • Check to see if you have a “flexible fuel” vehicle, which allows you to use less expensive E-85 fuel (85 percent ethanol). Many people with flexible fuel vehicles do not know they have one! Look under the fuel door lid for the word “E-85.”
  • Look for biodiesel fuel for diesel vehicles. Biodiesel blends (2% biodiesel) are becoming more available as the market for them increases. Contact the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association for a current list of stations offering biodiesel.
  • All diesel fuel sold in Minnesota is required to contain 2% biodiesel. Some gas stations sell blends up to 20% biodiesel.

Choose a fuel-efficient vehicle

  • Compare the fuel economy of different vehicles before making a purchase.
  • Consider hybrid or flexible fuel vehicles which are less expensive to operate.
  • If you have two cars, use the more efficient one for short trips and city driving.

Consider alternative transportation

  • Carpool or take the bus to work.
  • Ride your bicycle to work one day a week.

For more information, visit the following web sites:

U S Department of Energy – for U S gasoline prices and fuel efficiency information on specific vehicles:

Our Take:
Thank you, State of Minnesota, for reminding consumers of the simple fact that E10 is saving them money every day. Since we produce no “Texas Tea” ourselves, and we are at the end of the pipeline, we are more vulnerable than many other regions to high gasoline prices—or we would be without ethanol. The actual savings figure depends on market conditions, so it’s a moving target, but estimates range as high as 40 cents per gallon—that’s how much more our gasoline would cost without Minnesota’s E10 requirement.

And let’s not forget that 80 percent of our gasoline comes from Canadian oil—and an increasing portion of that derives from the Alberta oil sands strip mines—widely viewed as the worst ecological devastation in recent memory.

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The current wholesale price of ethanol at the fuel terminal in Minnesota is $1.59—a substantial savings over gasoline. The move to E20 in 2013 will produce even greater savings for the consumer, along with clean air benefits and the economic benefit of using energy that we have produced ourselves, rather than imported.

“Commonsense Environmentalist” argues for science-based conservation

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore is considered a heretic by some in the environmental movement for his strong support of a science-based approach to conserving natural resources. He calls himself a “commonsense environmentalist” in order to contrast his views about the benefits of science and technology, which are not shared by the extremists in the environmental movement.

Moore appeared as keynote speaker at the University of Minnesota’s first ever “Ag Awareness Day” on Tuesday, April 20—an event sponsored by the University of Minnesota Agriculture Education Club, Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition among others.

Moore did not mince words about activists – he said engage in “environmental extremism,” and noted that environmental politics should be centrist because the earth is important to everyone. Instead, the extremists’ program is “anti-human, anti-science and-technology, anti-trade and globalization, anti-business, anti-capitalist and just-plain anti-civilization.”

They are against these things and yet have offered no plausible alternative to supply the needs of earth’s population.

The result of all these biases, according to Moore, is that environmental extremists pursue initiatives that do not serve humanity and in some cases produce the opposite results of their stated goals, and actually cause environmental harm.

For instance, the environmental movement espouses a blanket opposition to aquaculture—fish farming—as something that is somehow insidious and belongs to a whole realm of “invisible poisons.” By writing off a very productive sector of agriculture, the environmentalists add to the pressure on the world’s oceans, which are being chronically overfished. Further, the extremists trade a suspicion of something “unnatural” as a possible (and totally unproven) cause of human disease, while discouraging people from making use of the known cardiovascular benefits they could enjoy by adding fish to their diet. Moore noted that unproved science has postulated 1 cancer death in 100,000 from farmed fish, whereas voluminous scientific studies find that adoption of a diet including fish oils and proteins could reduce deaths by heart disease, cancer and other causes by as much as 400 deaths in 100,000.

Likewise the environmental extremist movement’s total opposition to genetically engineered agriculture has a quantifiable and devastating effect—whether it is the refusal of starving East African countries of food aid that includes GM grains and oilseeds, or blocking the cultivation of “golden rice.” Moore called the campaign against “golden rice” the environmental movement’s ‘greatest crime against humanity.’

“Golden Rice” is a rice grain spliced with a gene that produces beta-carotene. Widespread use among countries where rice is the staple food could prevent between 250,000 to 500,000 cases of blindness among babies born in Asia each year, Moore told the audience.

Still GM crops are winning the war. Despite the campaign of environmental extremists who cast GM crops as “frankenfoods” that destroy biodiversity and traditional agriculture, GM crops continue to make inroads in the developing world because the overwhelming majority of small farmers—whether it is cotton producers in India or crop producers in the Philippines—demand access to bio-engineered seedstock.

Though India had outlawed GM cotton, a producer got a hold of GM seed and planted a vast area with it. It was so green and contrasted so visibly with the surrounding non-GM cotton growing around it that it could actually be seen from space, Moore said. Subsequently, cotton growers across the country demanded to be able to use it, and the law was changed.

Norman Borlaug, whose development of more productive wheat hybrids has saved millions of lives over the past half century, has been vilified by environmental extremists for stating that “the green revolution must become the ‘gene’ revolution.” Borlaug and other highly regarded food scientists have postulated that the preservation of biodiversity can only be accomplished by enhancing soil fertility and crop productivity while limiting the amount of land under cultivation—and this can only be accomplished through the scientific advances in crop productivity that bioengineering can provide.  A widespread adoption of “traditional” agricultural methods and the subsequent loss of productivity would mean that much of the world’s forest and grassland would have to be plowed under and planted in order to feed the world.

The gene revolution is already well underway in America, where, for example, corn growers grow more than five times more corn than they did a century ago, but they do it on 20 percent fewer acres. That kind of gain in productivity can be replicated in the developing world, and doing so would preserve rainforest and savannah ecosystems and their diversity of species.

Moore did not save all his criticism for environmentalists, stating that the people of the world can do more to conserve our resources and the wildlife habitat that is critical for the overall health of the world. He spoke about Rachel Carson, whose 1960s book Silent Spring was part of the groundswell that led to Earth Day and modern environmentalism. She is now widely criticized among conservatives for her anti-DDT stance, because subsequent government bans on DDT later resulted in millions of malaria deaths.  Moore noted that a careful reading of Silent Spring shows that Carson did not call for elimination of pesticides, only the elimination of their indiscriminate overuse. As a pesticide that kills all insect life, DDT was not appropriate for agriculture, but it should have remained in use for mosquito control, Moore said.

Whether it is turning off lights and appliances we are not using, or shifting from natural gas to geothermal heat exchangers to achieve home heating and cooling—there are many ways society can become better conservators of the earth, he said.

One of Moore’s key assertions is that science is never a settled matter. He noted that there are some 19,000 scientists who are signatories to a document that questions the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding climate change—that the atmosphere is warming due to changes in atmospheric chemistry caused by human activity.

He suggested that the process of scientific enquiry and debate would eventually end the suppression of data that show that the long term trend currently is global cooling. By contrast, during vast periods of the earth’s history, including the time that gave rise to the human race, the globe was an average of 8 degrees centigrade warmer than it is today and there was no ice cover at the poles. A somewhat warmer climate would benefit the lion’s share of the earth’s species, Moore asserted. Glaciers may look picturesque, but when they advance they actually limit fresh water and destroy forest ecosystems that support life.

USDA Experts Say Ethanol Blend Wall is Close

(Posted by Cindy Zimmerman at

Ethanol is getting very close to hitting the blend wall, according to economists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

With four months in a row of record ethanol production and stagnant gasoline demand, ethanol stocks are increasing. “Margins have weakened a lot over the last few weeks,” says USDA chief economist Joe Glauber, and indicators are that the blend wall is closing in.

“We’ve seen a sharp drop in ethanol prices,” USDA Outlook Board Gerry Bange adds in a USDA radio report, which he says has cut returns for ethanol producers dramatically.

That means that the future for the industry may very well hinge on the decision EPA has yet to make – moving the allowable blend level for ethanol in gasoline up to 15 percent from the current 10. “Given the fact that gasoline consumption in this country simply is not growing very rapidly and has essentially been flat for some time now, we are getting to the point where we simply have absorbed as much ethanol as we can under the current E10 legislation,” said Bange.

USDA’s latest supply-demand report out Friday left projected 2009-10 corn use for ethanol unchanged at 4.3 million bushels but lowered corn feed and residual use by 100 million bushels lower as March 1 stocks and a record January ethanol production indicate lower-than-expected December-February feed and residual disappearance.

Our Take:
America has reached the next fork in the road to its energy future. Do we want to use more oil or do we want renewable ethanol use to grow? These are the two alternatives, because looking ahead, we know we are going to increase our use of transportation energy. Cellulose ethanol’s growth will depend on a strong foundation of corn ethanol production—the most economically feasible approach in the near and middle term will be to build cellulose ethanol production facilities at the front end of existing ethanol plants—these would use corn cobs and other agricultural leftovers to make cleaner burning ethanol. This will eventually lead to the development of waste-to-ethanol technologies that every city can use to generate stationary power and many other possibilities for making energy production a local boost to the economy and environment, rather than a drain on the national economy and a point of weakness in our national security.

The only way oil supplies can grow is to tap the increasingly dirty, high-environmental-impact oil recovery technologies—whether it is using natural-gas or oil heated steam to force heavier crude out of the ground, as is done in California and in Venezuela, or strip mining the oil sands that lay beneath the northern forests of Alberta, Canada, and leaving behind a moonscape of tree stumps and toxic open air tailing ponds. Alberta currently has 50 square miles of these lakes of sludge and has ground 250 square miles of virgin forest into dust. Another 1700 square miles of forest are likely to be pulverized unless America—the chief consumer of this oil—puts the brakes on this environmental disaster.

On the other hand, producing more corn ethanol means switching a moderate amount of crop acreage from other crops to corn—the toll on the environment from dirty oil is a downhill race, getting steeper by the minute, while state-of-the-art U.S. agriculture continues its trend of using fewer nutrients, pesticides and herbicides per bushel of corn.

If we take ethanol growth out of the equation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, within ten to forty years, as much as a quarter of our oil will come from these methods that require an increasing amount of energy to retrieve (meaning that they put more carbon into the atmosphere) and that devastate the environment.

Minnesota Energy says it plans to close ethanol plant in Buffalo Lake; 20 will lose their jobs

(Article by Tom Cherveny, published in West Central Tribune)

The Minnesota Energy ethanol plant in Buffalo Lake is closing, putting 20 people out of work.

The decision to suspend ethanol production was a difficult and painful one, but necessary, according to Randy Byro, chairman of the board for the farmer-owned ethanol plant and grain handling cooperative.

“Margins, margins, margins,” he said. The operation has been losing money in recent months and its near-term financial prospects continued to look negative, he said. It’s the only ethanol plant in the state’s top corn-producing county.

The closing doesn’t affect the company’s grain handling and agronomy operations in Buffalo Lake, Stewart, Cosmos, Lake Lillian, Eden Valley or Darwin.

Byro said the ethanol plant will reopen if market conditions improve. He said the cooperative would need to see a 50-cents-to-75-cents-per-gallon upswing in prices before it would consider reopening the facility.

The facility opened in 1997 and has a rated capacity of 19 million gallons per year, making it one of the smallest ethanol plants in the state.

The plant’s closing was difficult news for Buffalo Lake due to the loss of jobs and economic activity it represents, according to Mayor Joyce Nyhus.

It comes exactly one year after the community saw the closing of its largest employer, Minnesota Beef Industries, formerly known as North Star Beef.

Nyhus, however, remains optimistic. She said the possibility now exists for the ethanol plant to be sold and would likely be suitable for other types of production.

Our Take:
Not only do we need immediate approval of the waiver for E15, extension of ethanol blender’s tax credits and the tariff that protects the still maturing domestic ethanol industry—we need what many politicians across the Midwest and the whole nation have talked about—an aggressive, comprehensive energy program that fully supports the development of alternative fuels—wind, solar, biofuels.

Otherwise, look for small plants like Buffalo to either close down or go out of the hands of farmers and into the hands of oil companies. When ownership leaves town, it’s a significant reduction to the economic impact of farmer-owned ethanol.

The alternative to the pro-ethanol stance can mean only one thing—using more foreign oil, at an ever higher cost to our economy, our security and our environment.

The latest news tells us that the American Meat Institute opposes many of these pro-ethanol measures. Buffalo Lake is a prime example of how this divided thinking leads to untimely and damaging economic disruption. It’s time for all value-added agriculture to work together to promote government policies that create strong markets for all the products that increase the share of local profits, and local jobs by adding value to what comes from the farm.

Guess who’s fighting extension of VEETC: Big Food and Big Oil


WASHINGTON Ethanol’s extended run of taxpayer backing could be in jeopardy.

A coalition of opponents to the corn-based fuel is working to block the extension of billions of dollars in biofuels tax credits, set to expire at year’s end.…

But when Illinois and Missouri members of Congress opened a new effort recently to extend the tax breaks, a phalanx of opponents quickly mobilized. They include the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the American Meat Institute, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, environmental organizations and pro-taxpayer groups.

Opponents have come up short in the past when trying to match the clout of ethanol and the farm lobby. This time, they claim their odds are better as a result of new spending rules in Congress designed to limit government giveaways. In ethanol’s case, supporters would need to find equivalent cuts to continue roughly $5 billion worth of tax credits.

Rep. John Shimkus of Collinsville, ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is co-leader of the House effort to extend the tax breaks for five more years, to 2015. He’s also pushing to extend expiring tariffs on ethanol imported from Brazil and other countries. Other co-sponsors include: GOP Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth and Jo Ann Emerson of Cape Girardeau, and Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville.

Our Take:
This anti-ethanol gang’s ploy reminds us of the non-sensical rantings you hear about the cost of a loaf of bread or a haircut. They should both cost a dime right? Well, corn growers were paid two dollars a bushel since it cost 13 cents for a loaf of bread. (Corn first hit two dollars a bushel in 1947, and remained steadily in the two dollar range from 1974 (bread = 28 cents, until 2005, when ethanol helped raise corn prices).

The big processed food companies want to go back to days when they paid less for farm products than those grains and cereals cost to produce. They were very happy for the government…in other words, the taxpayer, to pay the difference.

We are surprised that taxpayers’ leagues aren’t a little more sophisticated than this. As has been found in numerous studies, the 45-cent VEETC credit paid to oil companies and fuel blenders to convince them to use ethanol then generates many multiples in economic activity. The ethanol industry contributes $53.3 billion dollars annually to the Gross Domestic Product, producing $8.4 billion dollars in federal revenues—subtract the $5 billion for VEETC and you still have a $3.4 billion surplus to the US treasury (2010, Urbanchuk). Local and state government units reap $7.5 billion in revenue from the ethanol industry.

The day will come when oil and gas no longer command huge subsidies and no longer enjoy a de facto monopoly on transportation energy—the ethanol tax credit is helping to build a foundation for that secure energy future. In the meantime, VEETC is an investment whose returns show that it would be penny wise-pound foolish to end the incentive.

Our guess about why the oil companies oppose a system that pays them? They love bargains. Who doesn’t? The stress that the loss of the tax incentive creates in the US ethanol industry would cause many to put the ‘for sale’ sign in the window. During the worst stretch of the Recession, oil companies Valero and Sunoco bought ethanol plants for as little as a dime per dollar of construction cost.

Ag Awareness Day at the U of M will celebrate strides in conservation: Noted environmentalist Patrick Moore will speak

Written By Jonathan Eisenthal

On Tuesday April 20, the University of Minnesota will celebrate, as part of its celebration of Earth Day week, 40 years of amazing conservation progress by farmers. Improved production agriculture methods retain top soil, use fewer inputs per bushel and implement gains in knowledge about best management practices that minimize the environmental impact of farming, even while it has quadrupled its productivity.

The event takes place at the Northrop Auditorium and the Northrop Mall on the Minneapolis campus. Interactive booths sponsored by a spectrum of agricultural groups will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the mall.

In lecture halls inside Northrop Auditorium, beginning at 11 a.m., there will be a series of presentations by crop and livestock farmers talking about things they are doing in their operations that is good for the environment and at the same time makes them more productive.

“We think it’s so significant that this celebration started out as the idea of students in the University of Minnesota Ag Ed club, and that it’s taking place at our Land Grant University–the original vision of founding land grant institutions more than a century ago was to build a better agricultural future,” said DeVonna Zeug, a farmer in Walnut Grove who serves as president of Minnesota Corn growers Association. Zeug will be present for the day’s events including speaking on the producer panel at 11:00 a.m.

Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, and now director of Green Spirit, will deliver a keynote address from noon to 1 p.m. in Northrop Auditorium. His message revolves around a new approach to environmentalism that includes state-of-the-art commercial agricultural and forestry methods that enhance biodiversity, as well as clean renewable energy sources such as biofuels and next generation nuclear power development.

“Most people are unaware that advances in tillage, nutrient management and yield increases allow farmers to be four times as productive as they were on the first Earth Day,” said Warren Formo, one of the organizers of the event, and the executive director of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Coalition. “These advances in productivity are also what makes farming more environmentally sustainable than ever before—the ability to produce more crops on less acreage is the most effective conservation program there is.”

Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s booth will feature corn-based product giveaways, along with information about corn and ethanol production. Association Mascot/Blogger Nafaka Fladeboe will be on hand.

Zeug said, “Since the first Earth Day 40 years ago farmers have made so much progress in our approach to growing crops, animals, fiber and energy feedstocks. We know there are still challenges, but we are ready to step up and face those. With institutions like the University of Minnesota providing a steady stream of scientific advances, we are confident that we can continue to develop our agriculture. What we’ve got is already the best in the world—we have safe, abundant food at the lowest cost in the developed world. Today’s farmer is ready to keep developing farming as a profession that can economically sustain farm families, continue to be a foundation of the national economy, and all the while conserving our natural resources.”

Additional information about Patrick Moore is available.