Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association (MBA):New industry group seeks to represent bio-fuels producers and work alongside commodity group to inform the public and make positive policy changes

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

In May, a group of seven Minnesota ethanol production companies, joined by long-time ethanol advocates at the Minnesota Corn Growers Association joined together to create a group to represent the producers of ethanol for the purposes of educating the public and influencing public policy in order to allow renewable, farm-based energy production to continue to thrive and expand here in Minnesota.

“We welcome this new advocacy group,” said Greg Schwarz, president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association, a farmer in Le Sueur and founding member of Heartland Corn Products, a member group of Minnesota Bio-Fuels Association. “Now more than ever, the need to get accurate information about farm-based energy to the public and to lawmakers and government folks is critical. The future of rural Minnesota and the state economy as a whole depends on the success of value-added agriculture. It’s time for a unified voice in Minnesota supporting Bio-fuels.”

Among the chief goals of the new organization is to develop programs to help the public understand how food and energy are produced, to shed light on the “food versus fuel” misunderstanding, and to foster a more cooperative approach with the government and environmental interests.

“We have 22 ethanol facilities in Minnesota and it’s time to pull together and represent ourselves the way we want to be represented. The Corn Growers have done an excellent job over the past 25 years, but the industry has matured and it’s time we work alongside the Corn Growers as we move forward to achieve our common goals,” said Minnesota Bio-fuels Association (MBA) President Brian Kletscher. Kletscher is CEO/General Manager of Highwater Ethanol LLC in Lamberton. “We are not a national group–we will focus on the state of Minnesota and the many benefits this industry brings to our state. We want to communicate about how we can best build on to that and extend the positive impact this industry has in Minnesota.”

The member ethanol producers are Al-Corn Clean Fuel in Claremont; Central Minnesota Ethanol Cooperative, Little Falls; Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Benson; Guardian Energy, Janesville; Granite Falls Energy, LLC, Granite Falls; Heartland Corn Products, Winthrop; and Highwater Ethanol, LLC, Lamberton. Another seven companies are actively reviewing membership. Kletscher feels confident that MBA will soon prove itself to be the right organization to lead the industry in the state.

One of the first orders of business for the new organization will be hiring an executive director, Kletscher said, which MBA hopes to accomplish in the next few months. Other MBA officers are Granite Falls Energy CEO/GM Tracey Olson, who is MBA Vice President and Mike Jerke, general manager of Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, who is Secretary/Treasurer of MBA.

Minnesota’s ethanol industry stats underline the notion that this is a mature industry: 1.1 billion gallons in annual production at 22 facilities, directly employing approximately a thousand people, supporting the jobs of thousands more and bringing billions of dollars in economic activity to Minnesota.

Kletscher noted that an important goal of MBA is to improve how state government works with the renewable fuels industry.

“We would like to enhance the working relationship between the state agencies and our industry,” said Kletscher. “If they do not understand something we are doing, our hope is that we could sit down and discuss the issue and any concerns together. Our interests are aligned with that of the State. Farmers make up the backbone of our industry and as a result, being good environmental stewards is part of our DNA. For example, we have reduced our water usage by half in the last fifteen years. Some in our industry have converted to zero liquid discharge. Others are working hard to reduce their carbon footprint. This type of progress is possible because of the fast changing technological developments spearheaded by our colleagues. Not because it is easy or required but because it is the right thing to do. We need to develop a bridge that helps state agency’s understand what is possible. I have no doubt our relationship will only get better.”

The general public is disconnected from food and farm-based energy production, according to Kletscher, who praised the educational efforts of Minnesota Corn Growers Association and said MBA hopes to extend these efforts and further develop the flow of information cooperatively with MCGA. Even rural residents may not fully understand the ethanol process, but suburban and urban residents are all but completely disconnected from a sense of where their food and the biofuels in every gallon of Minnesota fuel come from. (Nearly all gasoline in Minnesota contains ten percent ethanol–due to rise to 20 percent in 2013–and all diesel contains two percent biodiesel).

“It can be an eye-opener for students to have a tour,” said Kletscher, who hopes one of MBA’s main avenues for communication will be facilitating visits to these value-added agricultural enterprises. “Instead of fighting each other and working against each other, we need to have everyone working together. We are here producing a renewable resource, renewable energy, providing jobs. Part of it is realizing what agriculture is all about. Again, the ethanol industry is part of the ag industry and that educational part is desperately needed. The ability to take grade school classes out to an ethanol plant, to a farm–to bring them into a working farm, a working ethanol plant, can make an impact on them, knowing where food comes from and when filling with gas, part of it is grown in rural America.”


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