Archive for January, 2011

Reaching RFS goals “would be ugly”

(reported in the blog Autopia, published by Wired Magazine, written by John Timmer)

 …Keeping the current blend at E10 and increasing the use of E85 could potentially get us to the renewable fuels mandate, but it would be ugly. In 2010 it’s estimated that we’ll have consumed 20 million gallons of E85. That will have to rise to 23.5 billion gallons by 2022.

(Timmer further reports, based on information from the Ag and Applied Economists Society) $30 billion in infrastructure upgrades would be required…and production would have to increase to 8.7 million flex fuel cars per year.

Our take:
What Timmer calls ugly sounds to us like something that could create tens of thousands of jobs by keeping more energy dollars here at home, rather than sending them to Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Iran.

What Timmer tries to frame as something that is either ridiculous or impossible has already been proved within reach by Brazil. In 2003, the country saw its first flex fuel vehicle. In 2004, flex fuel vehicles were 22 percent of all vehicles sold in Brazil. In 2005, it was 73 percent. By August 2009, 94 percent of all vehicles sold in Brazil were flex fuel. And it’s not just Ford and Chevy offering flexible fuel equipment. Kia. Honda. Volkswagen. Fiat. Citroen.  All selling flexible fuel equipment. Anyone telling you it can’t be done here–that we can’t do what Brazil has done– is selling America short.

In that same period, Brazil doubled its use of ethanol. Timmer pretends it would be impossible to create a 23.5 billion gallon E85 market in the next 12 years, when in America, we have grown the ethanol industry from 1.7 billion gallons to 13.7 billion capacity between 2001 and 2011.

It’s worth remembering that another set of economists have projected that Brazil could be among the societies that leave the US in the dust in the coming century (along with China and India) through the embrace of new technologies. What Timmer is truly advocating is for America to become fossilized by its fossil-fuel addiction. He mentions thermo-processed biomass to produce “green gasoline.” We don’t see a conflict, but a complement. Even at 23.5 billion gallons of grain-based ethanol fuel, Americans would still be consuming more than 120 billion gallons of gasoline per year–and that’s if fuel consumption doesn’t grow, which we consider an unlikely scenario.

What’s $30 billion? A couple fighter jets? And talk about a weapon–we would be taking literally billions of dollars out of the hands of our enemies by reducing the demand for oil.

DuPont picks Iowa for (cellulosic) ethanol plant

(article BY DAN PILLER • DPILLER@DMREG.COM • DesMoines Register Newspaper, see full article at

Iowa beat out Nebraska last Wednesday for an ethanol plant to be built by DuPont in either Story County or Webster County that would use corncobs, leaves and stalks as feedstock rather than corn.

The plant will join a proposed Poet facility at Emmetsburg as Iowa’s two next-generation refineries, to go along with 40 corn-fed ethanol plants in Iowa, the nation’s largest ethanol producer.

The Iowa Power Fund board approved a $9 million grant – $10 million less than DuPont’s original request, for the facility that DuPont and partner Danisco hope to have in service by 2013.

“We had an attractive offer from Nebraska,” said Jennifer Allison Hutchins, spokeswoman for the DuPont/Danisco partnership. “But Iowa’s offer was good as well, and we felt that Iowa offered a better source of feedstock and rail availability.”

The plant will employ about 60 people when operational, Hutchins said.

DuPont, which also owns Pioneer Hi-Bred seed company of Johnston, hasn’t specified where the plant will be built….

Roya Stanley, director of the Iowa Office of Energy Independence, which administers the (Iowa Power) fund, noted the contrast with the $14.25 million grant given Poet for the Emmetsburg plant.

“Poet will share licensing fees for other plants with the state,” Stanley said.

The Poet and DuPont plants are considered Iowa’s bid to remain in the ethanol game when the biofuel moves beyond its first-generation stage of corn-fed production.

The federal government has decreed that half of the 36 billion gallons of biofuels to be produced by the next decade come from cellulosic sources, which includes not only corn residue but also grasses such as switchgrass and miscanthus.

Our Take:
Attention Gov. Dayton and the Republican leaders of the Minnesota Legislature–Minnesota needs a power fund if it hopes to stay in the ethanol game. Sixty new high paying jobs and millions of economic activity for many years to come in exchange for a nine million dollar investment.

Cellulosic ethanol is not just where RFS is requiring the next half of the nation’s 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel to come from by 2022–it also represents the future for grain ethanol plants. It is likely that the successful corn-ethanol plant of the future will have side-by-side processing of both starch and cellulose into energy. To have both capabilities will give Midwestern ethanol companies a decided edge in the competition with new next generation cellulose plants being planned in places like Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.

MCGA Annual Awards spotlight the essentials: farmers who experienced production success & those who help all farmers achieve success & leaders who strengthen MCGA’s grassroots

When hundreds drew together for the Minnesota Corn Growers Awards Banquet on Monday, January 17, during MN Ag EXPO, they applauded MCGA’s top membership recruiters who have kept the rolls over 6,000 members once again–a key to commanding the attention of key elected officials and policy makers in Saint Paul and Washington.

“I want to congratulate MCGA for another successful year,” said Jerry Ploehn, a farmer in Alpha, Minnesota, and chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council. He told the audience, “We want to thank all you folks for your support of the corn industry and the corn check off. Looking back, 2010 was a very busy and productive year. We funded projects and saw exciting progress in biomass energy, distillers grains, and water quality, among others. We also forged important and exciting partnerships that help us reach out and tell the farmer’s story to a growing number of people, through new partnerships with Twins Baseball, the University of Minnesota Gophers sports teams and Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, to mention a few.”

The presence of the incoming and outgoing Minnesota agriculture commissioners signaled the special place that Minnesota Corn Growers Association holds as a leadership group ensuring a bright future for our state. Commissioner Gene Hugoson, the longest serving state agriculture commissioner in US history, ended his 15-year tenure–held across three governor administrations–came to the stage for the Kernel Award–MCGA’s highest recognition. Since his appointment in 1995 by Gov. Arne Carlson, Hugoson successfully steered the state’s agriculture program to ensure that Minnesota farm producers enjoyed one of the most prosperous periods ever–through support of value added agriculture, exports, as well as educational programs and programs to benefit the environment.

As Hugoson left the podium, he received warm congratulations from Dave Frederickson, who began this month as the new Minnesota commissioner of agriculture. Frederickson comes to the role at the pinnacle of a distinguished career of service to agriculture that has included a tenure in the state senate when he helped pass Minnesota’s groundbreaking ethanol programs–the producer support program and the ten percent ethanol gasoline blend requirement. Frederickson went on to serve as state and national president of the Farmers Union, and has worked most recently as a constituent liaison for US Senator Amy Klobuchar, focusing on farm and rural issues. Both Frederickson and Hugoson remain active in farming, which members of MCGA have sited as a key qualification–these officials know firsthand about the needs of agricultural producers.

Three University of Minnesota agricultural scientists received MCGA’s Friend of Agriculture award–recognition of distinguished careers, and also underlining the interest of Minnesota corn producers in achieving environmental benefits through better agricultural science. Soil Scientists Gyles Randall, Satish Gupta and John Moncrief received this award. As the debate over the environmental impact of agriculture intensifies, the work of these scientists and those following them will lay the foundation for a model in which agriculture becomes more productive while managing its environmental impact so that everyone can enjoy the state’s vast natural resources for generations to come.

“They go after the truth,” MCGA Pres. Greg Schwarz told the audience. “What we are looking for is what is actually happening in the rural landscape, and that is what their scientific research is establishing.”

Recognition also went to a group of leaders who have all given generously of their time, most for more than a decade, who are retiring this year from the MCGA board of directors: past MCGA president Doug Albin, Roger Dale, Tim Dolan, Tim Dritz and Jeffrey Larson. The immediate past-president, DeVonna Zeug, received the MCGA Presidential Gavel award.

Of Zeug, Schwarz said, “What always impressed me and has truly influenced me in DeVonna’s leadership style was that, when we debated big questions, she would say ‘What’s in the best interest of Minnesota Corn Growers, what’s in the best interest of the farmers?'”

MCGA’s top recruiters for the year were Lori Feltis, Connie Mulder, Robert Nelsen, Myron “Mickey” Peterson and Doug Toreen–all achieving 350 points or more in the recruitment ranking. Gayle Bergstrom and Dale Sunderman achieved 250 points; Denice Dirks achieved 200 points; Larry Litzau and Ryan Buck achieved 150 points; Wade Kallevig, Wes Nelson, Richard Peterson and Jerry Ploehn surpassed 100 points and Tom Haag, Nathan Haag, Byron Olson and Thomas Williamson surpassed 50 points in recruitment–all signing new members and getting commitments from existing members to continue their membership in MCGA.

Also honored were Minnesota’s top producers in the NCGA National Corn Yield Contest. In a bin buster year for Minnesota growers, there were still more than a dozen standout producers recognized.

The contest recognizes to achievers in six different categories of cultivation method:

In AA No Till/ Strip Till, Non-Irrigated:
First Place: McNallan Farms of Kellogg with a yield of 252.7
Second Place: Paul Hamann of Fountain with a yield of 247.1
Third Place: Jordan Redalen of Fountain with a yield of 244.9

AA Non-Irrigated:
First Place: Craig Leland of Bricelyn with a yield of 263.6
Second Place: Kevin Zimmer of Fairmont with a yield of 260.9
Third Place: Gary and Jim Sobeck of Winona with a yield of 257.7

No-Till/Strip-Till Irrigated
First Place: Braun Farms, Inc., of LeSueur with a yield of 237.1
Second Place: Jeff Tiemann Royalton with a yield of 235.3

Ridge Till Non-Irrigated
First Place: Charlie Hamm of Litchfield with a yield of 249.5
Second Place Bruce Hamm of Litchfield with a yield of 231.7
Third Place: Fred Behnke of Grove City with a yield of 220.8 

Ridge Till Irrigated
First Place: Crow River Farms, Inc., of Darwin with a yield of 232.3 

First Place: James Gergen of Hastings with a yield of 245.0
Second Place: Bill Schaffer of Hastings with a yield of 244.1
Third Place: Roger Peine of Cannon Falls with a yield of 243.0

Granite Falls Energy plans expansion to 70 mmgy


In the aftermath of the tornado that ravaged Granite Falls a decade ago, a group of rural leaders backed a vision to create a locally-owned ethanol plant. The success of the venture is underlined by its latest decision to expand the plant from a nameplate of 49.1 million gallons up to 70 million gallons of production per year.

The plant’s success as an economic engine in the community has won it broad support. This was most recently demonstrated at a meeting of the Yellow Medicine County board of commissioners. GFE General Manager Tracey Olson asked the commissioners for support for the expansion and the body agreed to publish a letter of support.

“Granite Falls Energy, like many of the locally owned ethanol producers across Minnesota, came along at just the right time to revive the economic vitality of its community,” said Greg Schwarz, president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association, a crop and livestock farmer and ethanol plant investor. “By strengthening the price for grain locally, and adding value locally, we create a whole new source of income and high paying jobs. The profits from ethanol pour right back into main street businesses and that has brought billions in economic activity to Minnesota since farmer-owned ethanol plants got started in the mid 1990s.”

According to Schwarz, who was a founder of Heartland Corn Products in Winthrop and continues to have a leadership role in that ethanol company, Minnesota needs to remove the obstacles to further growth in the ethanol industry.

“It’s an industry that has proved itself as a valuable partner with Minnesota’s farmers, and also a willing partner with government in efforts to assure that ethanol has a minimal environmental impact,” said Schwarz. “Compare ethanol to any other energy industry–oil refining, coal- or natural gas-fired electric generation, nuclear–ethanol has an outstanding record. We’re taking the energy of the sun captured by grain and making high performance fuel–Indy and NASCAR use ethanol now. And best of all, we make it right here, instead of importing it. That keeps jobs and dollars right here.”

The Yellow Medicine County commissioners also supported GFE’s position opposing Xcel Energy’s plans to remove the Minnesota Falls Dam. Because the ethanol plant derives its water supply from the river and has high-cost pump station infrastructure located along the river, there is concern about changes in the flow of the water course.

The Granite Falls Advocate Tribune noted in a recent report that: “(GFE) spent approximately $11 million in 2006 to install the intake, pump facility and water purification system that allows it to use the river water. If the dam were removed, the water level at the site would drop 14.5 feet leaving the intake completely out of the water during low flows and effectively useless.”

The newspaper reported that GFE is considering taking legal action in the matter.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has completed an environmental assessment worksheet on the plant expansion and is currently entertaining public comments (through January 26). Read the Advocate Tribune coverage at

U presents report on Clean Water to Legislature

Offers framework for $80 M annual Legacy Amendment spending

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Last Wednesday, the University of Minnesota Water Resources Center presented a report to the Minnesota State Legislature that offers a framework for an initiative to improve water quality over the next 25 years. The report included data developed by eight teams, covering a broad spectrum of aspects to water quality regulation. One of the eight, an agriculture technical work team, developed a white paper to analyze the current state of agriculture in relationship to water quality as well as to identify gaps in knowledge surrounding agricultural water issues.

“Water is a resource we all treasure, and we join all Minnesotans in the desire to work together to achieve a clean water future,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Greg Schwarz, a farmer in Le Sueur, Minnesota who was a contributor to the work of the agriculture technical work team for the Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework. “Farmers have not been standing still in this quest for clean water–we are continually developing best management practices that allow us to maximize our production while minimizing our environmental impact, whether it is the methods that we use to apply inputs or the way we cultivate the soil. We welcome the infusion of more funding into research where knowledge gaps exist.

 “We feel though, that as much as we know about clean water–that berms and filter strips and other farming techniques improve water quality–we want to substantiate through research that any changes we make to farm practices will actually yield the desired results. This is especially important now that this report’s recommendations contain an aspect of mandatory regulation of these agricultural practices.”

Schwarz noted, too, that the work of improving Minnesota’s waters doesn’t rest on the shoulders of farmers alone. A special sales tax known as the Legacy Fund will contribute $80 million a year to help Minnesota achieve its clean water goals. But chipping in when you buy goods and services is only a start, according to Schwarz, who believes that everyone will have to change how they use water and their approach to many daily activities that impact water.

“This is supposed to be a map for how everyone is going to join together to improve water quality–not just farmers, but everyone, whether you live in Minneapolis, Moorhead or Le Sueur,” said Schwarz. “Everyone in the state affects water quality and quantity in some way, so when it comes to working towards clean water, municipalities, urban and rural residents and Minnesota businesses all need to join us at the work table. We’ll work together to develop a truly sustainable water framework.”

To his fellow members of Minnesota Corn Growers Association and all agricultural producers in Minnesota, Schwarz brings a message urging careful attention to this process of improving water quality, which is moving beyond the reporting phase into a work plan phase.

“One of the recommendations that came out yesterday is that we (farmers) comply with water quality standards through implementation plans for reducing pollutants and bring farmers to the table to be part of the solution…we are going to have to follow this very closely,” Schwarz said in a radio interview.

The full report to the legislature, along with the white papers from the agriculture and other technical work committees can be accessed at

Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council seek candidates for four seats

Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council, which channels the voluntary check-off fund proceeds from every bushel of corn sold in Minnesota, is seeking candidates interested in running for four district representative positions. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) will conduct mail ballot elections for the Barley, Beef, Corn and Soybean Councils in March.
Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council continues to reach out to the broader public with a message about the importance of agriculture, through promotional events, media advertising, and partnerships with a wide variety of major organizations across the state, such as Minnesota Twins Baseball.

The Council directs the funding of research projects on areas with an immediate impact on agricultural producers, like soil drainage and water quality research. The sum of these activities can be seen in the growing bottom-line for corn production in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (2009) “Minnesota’s corn and ethanol industries support more than 70,000 jobs and contribute $12 billion to the state’s economy.”

Interested candidates should contact Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council at 952-233-0333 by the February 7, 2011 registration deadline.  These farmer/leaders will serve three-year terms directing the investment of their research and promotion council’s check-off programs.

Here are the geographical units covered by the MCR&PC representative 4 seats up for election:

–Districts I, II, and IV covers much of western Minnesota and includes Becker, Beltrami, Big Stone, Cass, Chippewa, Clay, Clearwater, Douglas, Grant, Hubbard, Itasca, Kittson, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Ottertail, Pennington, Polk, Pope, Red Lake, Roseau, Stevens, Swift, Traverse, Wilkin and Yellow Medicine counties. Districts I, II and IV are currently represented by Council Representative Dwight Mork, of Bellingham.

–District VII covers southwestern Minnesota and includes Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood and Rock counties. MCR&PC Treasurer Richard Peterson of Mountain Lake currently represents District VII.

–District VIII covers south central Minnesota and includes Blue Earth, Brown, Faribault, Freeborn, Le Sueur, Martin, Nicollet, Rice, Steele, Waseca and Watonwan counties. Council Representative Jerry Demmer of Clarks Grove currently represents District VIII.

–District IX covers parts of south central and south eastern Minnesota and includes Dakota, Dodge, Fillmore, Goodhue, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Wabasha and Winona counties. Council Representative Martin Amundson of Zumbrota currently represents District IX.

New leaders want to restrain regulation

New leaders want to restrain regulation
(article published in Bemidji Pioneer, “Minnesota Legislature: Environment, outdoors issues up for debate,”)

…The new Republican legislative leadership and Democratic Gov.-elect Mark Dayton agree on the need to make regulations less intrusive to businesses.

(Rep. Denny) McNamara (R-Hastings.) said that should help his goal of limiting how much time it takes to get various environmental-related permits.

“I anticipate that is going to come out of the chute strongly,” he said.

An example McNamara gave of how permit delays hurt business is that Iowa gets most of the new ethanol plants in a large part because it presents businesses with less red tape.

While speeding up state permitting, McNamara said, the state must remain strong in protecting the environment. “We want Minnesota to lead in that stuff.”

Being environmentally friendly will keep Minnesota a more expensive place to do business, McNamara said, but it is worth the price.

(Full article at

Our Take: 
We are encouraged to hear that leaders like McNamara and Governor-elect Dayton want to bring more balance to the approach of regulating business impacts on the environment. We believe Minnesota can maintain a strong regulatory structure that protects the environment without being overly punitive. Current regulation, permitting and assessment of penalties have reached the point that ethanol and other industries develop elsewhere, rather than choosing Minnesota. We can change that without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.