Archive for April, 2012

E85 loyalty

Economist finds buyers willing to pay more

By Holly Jessen

Research showing consumers are willing to pay a premium for ethanol was published in the March issue of the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management. Soren Anderson, a Michigan State University economist, calculated that when ethanol increased 10 cents per gallon above the price of gasoline, there was only a 12 to 16 percent decrease in demand.

Frankly, Anderson was surprised at what he found. “I was expecting to see a sharp reduction in sales of E85 the moment that the price rose above the price of gasoline on an energy-adjusted basis,” he tells EPM. “But this doesn’t seem to be happening. Instead, it appears that many E85 buyers are willing to pay a premium for the fuel, and some fraction of these buyers continue to buy the fuel, even when its price rises above that of gasoline.”

Anderson developed a model based on information gathered in Minnesota from 1997 to 2006, during which nearly 5,000 monthly observations of ethanol prices and sales volumes were made at more than 200 retail gas stations. The economic analysis is one of the first to examine the way in which consumers value ethanol, Anderson says. Previous analysis assumed consumers viewed the two fuels in the same way, with ethanol and gasoline considered perfect substitutes after adjusting for the lower gas mileage of ethanol.

The findings have economically significant implications for policy decisions affecting cellulosic ethanol, he says. Looking ahead to 2022, he calculates that the cost of producing cellulosic ethanol will be considerably higher than the projected cost of gasoline. “If consumers treat gasoline and ethanol as perfect substitutes, only buying the fuel that gives them the lowest fuel cost per mile, then fuel retailers will need to price ethanol at or below the price of gasoline for consumers to buy ethanol,” he says. This means, he adds, that producers will lose money in an attempt to comply with the renewable fuel standard (RFS)—unless cellulosic ethanol is subsidized or consumers are willing to pay a premium for the fuel.

Despite the encouraging results of his study, Anderson concludes it wasn’t enough to justify the ethanol blending mandates contained in the renewable fuel standard. “This reduces substantially the simulated efficiency cost of an ethanol content standard, since some households choose ethanol without large subsidies, mitigating deadweight losses,” he says, adding that mandating ethanol blending is expensive. Another consideration is the amount of emissions ethanol actually reduces, a topic he notes is hotly debated.

Ethanol industry supporters, on the other hand, point to the role of the RFS in moderating gasoline prices, reducing imports of foreign oil and supporting growth of the advanced and cellulosic biofuels sectors. On March 27, a coalition of eight groups, including the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy, sent a letter to Congressional leaders urging them to reject attempts to reduce, waive or eliminate the RFS. They pointed to a Center for Agriculture and Rural Development study that found that in the decade from 2000 to 2010, ethanol reduced gasoline prices an average of 25 cents per gallon, saving consumers $34 billion yearly. The groups also partially credited the RFS with reducing oil imports below 50 percent for the first time in 2010. Finally, they pointed to the need to bolster the second-generation biofuels industry still in its infancy. “Efforts to amend or reform the RFS would send a chilling signal to a marketplace just when the advanced and cellulosic biofuels industries are on the cusp of commercial production to help meet this nation’s energy independence and security needs,” the letter says.  —Holly Jessen

Our Take:
Here’s a very interesting study based on E85 consumer behavior right here in Minnesota. The findings are a cause for optimism about our renewable energy future, but the author’s conclusion that America’s still-growing renewable fuel production capacity can live without the requirements in RFS is premature. Killing RFS will inhibit the growth of advanced biofuels right at the moment when commercial viability is happening.

Though 80-plus percent of customers remained loyal to E85 when the price rose above that of gasoline, A) that other 12 to 16 percent are crucial to the profitability of the fuel and B) the current consumers of E85 are early adopters. These folks have flocked to cleaner-burning renewable fuel out of a sense of idealism about improving air quality, lowering carbon emissions and ending our addiction to foreign energy sources. While it’s safe to say that this type of customer will continue to be well represented among the population of drivers using E20, E30, E50 and E85, we have to realize that the customer profile will look a bit different when America is producing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel a year (ten years from today) and ethanol has a dollar-plus advantage over the price of gasoline, per gallon. To make up for lower energy content, ethanol has to be priced about 25 percent less than gasoline. Ethanol’s continued success will depend on maintaining that price differential because for a whole group of motorists, the price will be the reason to come over to the flex-fuel pump at the gas station.

EPA approves four MN companies to market E15

WASHINGTON – Minnesota has four companies that could be among the first in the country to sell a richer blend of ethanol and gasoline.

The Environmental Protection Agency recently announced its approval of 24 companies to offer a blend that is 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline. Among the first companies lining up to produce what is commonly called E15 are the owners of ethanol plants in Benson, Marshall and Fairmont and Wayzata-based Cargill, Inc.

Advocates say the mixture of gasoline and renewable ethanol could sell for 5 to 10 cents per gallon less than regular gasoline at a time when soaring gas prices dig deeper than ever into Americans’ pocketbooks.

“There should be some E15 in the market in the next month or two,” predicted Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, a trade association for ethanol producers. “Market economics should drive it.”

Cargill did not hazard a guess of when E15 might actually be available to motorists.

“This is an important and positive step toward increased usage of ethanol,” company spokesman Pete Stoddard said. “But more steps are needed for E15 to gain widespread adoption in the market.”

Among the biggest hurdles is that EPA restricts E15 to vehicles built in 2001 and later. The restriction requires companies to file plans to ensure E15 is kept out of older vehicles, as well as boats and gasoline-powered equipment, where the EPA says it may cause damage.

Minnesota requires all gas stations in the state to offer 10 percent ethanol (E10), said Christine Connelly of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. For now, it will not do the same for E15.

“Minnesota law says that unless it’s allowed in all vehicles, regardless of year, you can sell it, but it won’t be mandated,” Connelly explained.

While the lack of a mandate puts a crimp in marketing E15, Buis called EPA announcement a major move for those who earned the agency’s approval for production. “You ask why this is needed?” he said. “For 40 years, we have been addicted to foreign oil.”

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers Association was not enthusiastic. “EPA’s hasty attempts to speed introduction of E15 … could endanger the safety of American consumers, threatening their vehicles and gasoline-powered equipment with possibly severe damage,” association president Charles T. Drevna said. “This action is more about political science than real science because it is designed to protect the ethanol industry rather than the American people.”

The EPA said the Department of Energy did extensive testing of E15 in vehicles.

Our Take:
The people who brought us leaded gasoline are concerned about consumer safety? We think not.

Their portrayal of E15 as a rush job is a desperate attempt to hold onto valuable marketshare when prices for gasoline are poised to go through the roof. The only thing holding prices down will be production of domestic, renewable energy that can go in our gas tanks, and that’s ethanol.

Even all the increased oil production in the Dakotas and Wyoming, and the ramp up of the environmentally disastrous Canadian tar sands oil development will not put a damper on the price at the pump. Millions every year are joining the ranks of new car owners in China and India–the world’s most populous nations, also now among the most vigorously growing economies.

The 2001 vehicle rule from EPA is quite arbitrary–there’s no marked change in the fabrication of engines and fueling systems from before that date. The government simply couldn’t obtain a good supply of vehicles for its testing process that date from more than a decade ago and that had not been driven. Of course the pre-2001 vehicles actually on the road that would use E15 would probably have 100K-plus mileage, so why not test it in high mileage vehicles? A respected Detroit auto engineering firm reviewed all the testing that’s been done and vehicle production methods going back nearly two decades and found that any vehicle produced in 1994 or after can operate safely on E15.

Still, even with EPA’s arbitrary marker set down at 2001, we feel confident that more renewable energy can make it into the transportation market now.

As the production tops out at 15 billion gallons per year, E15 should be able to take up the increased supply of ethanol and put it to work and we can let the rest of the world buy a little more of that high priced, foreign-produced fossil energy.

Planting the seeds to grow CommonGround

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

One woman complained that corn sweetener is in too many foods.

Another man expressed his worry that farming pollutes the creek where he likes to canoe, and that farm nutrients are ending up in the Gulf of Mexico.

A student said her “Holistic” class included the screening of a video that claimed a corn diet kills cattle.  Sometimes just letting a little sunshine in on a notion like this—taking it out of the classroom bubble and into the real world, is enough to get people to see that dairy and cattle farmers, whose livelihoods depend directly on the health of their livestock, would never feed them foodstuffs that would injure that health.

Minnesota’s three CommonGround volunteers were there to listen, and to let that sunshine in. The third annual Ag Awareness Day, organized by the student members of the University of Minnesota Ag Education Club, offered the opportunity on Tuesday, April 17, to respond to these worries about food and agriculture.

The CommonGround volunteers shared a booth with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, providing logistical support for this grassroots effort here in Minnesota.

The CommonGround volunteers let more sunshine in: consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to sweetened foods—farmers are happy to grow more crops for other uses as the market demands. Nutrient impacts on the environment are at the top of farmers’ agendas and farmers are driven both by environmental stewardship ideals and the bottom line of their businesses –fertilizers and other inputs are too expensive to waste—so farmers are driven to continually improve the delivery of nutrients, so that they help grow crops and don’t end up as waste in sensitive ecosystems.

The exaggerations and distortions about agriculture and food by media start to fall away when these farm women of CommonGround reassure people about the shared values that farmers and indeed most Americans hold—values that drive today’s agriculture—to produce safe, healthy food, to ensure the welfare of domestic animals, to ensure the quality of the environment for future generations and to build a strong foundation for an economy that can grow while achieving these other goals about food, health and the environment.

“We have to meet people where they are at, and hear their concerns if we want to connect with them and get them to have a stronger connection to Minnesota agriculture,” said Linda Kroll, who joined with Dorothy Smith-Jacobs and Kristie Swenson—all three women with farming backgrounds—in an effort called CommonGround—an organization trying to help people see past the shock video blurbs and understand how the sound bites and newspaper stories don’t tell the whole story.

Kroll farms in Royalton, Smith-Jacobs farms in Stearns County and Swenson works as a lender at a small town bank while her husband farms with her parents in Alpha.

Swenson, who attended the University of Minnesota, relished the chance to come back as a CommonGround volunteer. She has also attended the MARL agricultural leadership seminar series and before changing over to the banking field, she worked with one of the world’s most successful farmer cooperatives, Land O’ Lakes.

“We’re not only putting a face on agriculture, but we’re helping people see what’s true,” said Swenson. “An event like this is great, because you have the booths and people see the pigs and chickens and llamas, and also the crops and all the products made from the crops—people see all the different facets that make up agriculture and realize it’s not just one big thing, but a very diverse set of industries where people like my family are working hard to deliver commodities and products that people need and want. For me, putting a face on farming is a way to show the average person that when they are blaming “ag” they are blaming me and my family—not only should people think twice about reckless accusations, but they should know it’s a slap at actual people who work hard every day to do the right thing.”

CommonGround, as a volunteer program underwritten by National Corn Growers Association and United Soybean Board, has attracted small, grassroots chapters of volunteer farm women to “meet people where they are” and tackle the kind of anxieties that resonate especially with women as family meal planners and decision makers about family nutrition. Sometimes it’s just about the reassurance that consumers don’t need to go for the expensive niche products just to get the nutrition their families need. Everyday farm grown products get the job done. Everyone wants to do the best by domestic animals, so CommonGround volunteers offer for public consideration the realities that free-range practices don’t always enhance the lives of animals, and most indoor-confined animals exist in spaces that allow free range of movement, full extension of wings and legs, along with allowing for natural groom and feeding behaviors.

“It’s not our goal to tell people what to think,” said Swenson. “We want to make sure agriculture has a voice in all these discussions where there are so many concerns around food and farming. Ag needs to be represented because we bring our knowledge and experience to the table and assure that information is accurate and goals are realistic.”

It can come as a surprise to people made anxious by media reports when they hear all the things farmers are doing right in the pursuit of the good of the environment. Most people haven’t heard about all the ways farmers are working with government agencies and private industry to correct problems.


Want a window on all the positive changes in agriculture? Take a look at the 14th annual Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

There were blue jackets, grandmothers, university professors, agribusiness and commodity organization representatives–many playing a double role as a farm producer along with full-time jobs off the farm–it was the 14th Women’s Agricultural Leadership Conference. Held on Wednesday, April 11 at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen, the conference drew a diverse crowd of more than a hundred women from across the state who shared a common excitement for agricultural leadership at this time of rapid change.

Roundtable discussions offered four ten-minute sessions where participants could attend one quick briefing after another, choosing from a dozen topics. MCGA Outreach & Communications Specialist Jenna Kromann and North Dakota Soybean Board Volunteer Karolyn Zurn spoke about the recently launched CommonGround initiative. Farm women volunteer at local events, grocery stores and other venues where they reach out to suburban and urban counterparts, who are the family meal planners and opinion makers when it comes to food, and start conversations about farming and food.

The morning general session panel addressed the “Changing Face of Agriculture”–the panel’s makeup demonstrated the diversity of agriculture today in Minnesota. Not only did the panel reflect different ethnic heritages among Minnesota farm women, but the panelists reflect how women lead in agriculture at every level. Pakou Hang, executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association spoke about her work advocating for one of the state’s fastest growing minority populations (60,000+), among whom many are connected to agriculture, particularly small farms that use organic methods and market their products at farmers’ markets.

“Minnesota’s Hmong farmers have been right at the forefront of the growth in the local foods movement,” Pakou said. “There’s a growing number of people willing to pay a premium for locally-raised foods, and our organization is working to make sure that Hmong farmers are benefitting from that.”

Another fast-rising star in agricultural leadership, Sangeetha Gummadi, talked about her work for the past two years as a soil conservationist at Wright County Natural Resource Conservation Service, where she not only helps farmers develop plans to prevent soil erosion and maintain water quality, but she has begun to work on outreach with school groups and local government units, to educate the public about all the conservation happening on today’s farms. Gummadi is a graduate of University of Minnesota’s agriculture education program and served as a Minnesota State FFA officer during her high school and college career.

Proving the value of an economics degree, Betty Berning spoke about her role as senior dairy buyer for General Mills.

Berning noted that General Mills’ success has come in part through its excellence in developing partnerships with the spectrum of food processors, but she hopes that the Minnesota-based Fortune 500 company can re-establish close connections with the farm producers who raise the raw feedstocks that become such General Mills products as Yoplait yogurt or Totino’s pizza.

Kristin Weeks Duncanson brought her perspective gained not only from production on her family farm in Mapleton, but also from service in state and national commodity organizations (past president of Minnesota Soybean Growers Association) and her current position as board chairwoman of Minnesota Agri-Growth Council. She told the audience about her work recently as one of 31 advisers to the newly formed AGree Food and Ag Policy Group, an initiative from nine of the world’s leading philanthropic foundations: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ford Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Walton Family Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

“The AGree Team is working on long term sustainability in food production and the environment around the world,” said Weeks Duncanson. “Through the AGree process you get a view of some of the forces behind the changes we see in ag. By 2050 we need to feed 9 billion-plus people and there’s only so much tillable ground. We have to get better at production, while not leaving behind distressing environmental impacts…there are so many interesting opportunities and challenges ahead of us.”

Rural areas need to prepare to offer solutions for what a growing world population and a growing world middle class wants. Weeks Duncanson noted that by mid-century China will have 300 million middle class people–equivalent to nearly the entire population of the United States. Further, her work with AGree has given her insight into the desire of companies like Walmart to put actual numbers and measures to concepts of sustainability, for everything from electronics products to the milk and cheese in its grocery aisles.

She said farmers need to be aware of Walmart’s process and to contribute information and offer the farm producers’ point of view when they can, knowing that the big retail players like Walmart increasingly call the shots about how food is produced.

Rural areas will need infrastructure to take part in world growth in everything from fish farming, to microbrewing of beer, Weeks Duncanson said. Education is another area that calls for a responsive approach.

“A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out all the jobs out there going unfilled –welders, painters, carpenters–highly skilled labor. We need to tweak training and education programs to fill those jobs,” said Weeks Duncanson.

The daylong leadership conference included breakout sessions in which the common theme was how to have an impact as a leader–one of the most popular sessions of the day was “How To Be Outrageous” in which Peg Longquist of the University of Minnesota’s Women’s Center shared her infectious message about how to gain the confidence to be leaders for positive change.

MARL Class VI graduates, including four leaders with MCGA connections

The Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership (MARL) program recently graduated its sixth class of mid-career leaders with a concluding weekend seminar and graduation event held in Chaska. The year-and-a-half long seminar series, organized through Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, is considered the most prestigious and rigorous training that focuses on leadership for agriculture.

The thirty two leaders of MARL VI were drawn from across the state and from a number of different agriculture industries. They include four leaders connected to Minnesota Corn Growers Association: farmer/MCGA members Rochelle Krusemark of Trimont, Kirby Hettver of Montevideo and Ian Sandager of Hills, as well as MCGA staffer Elizabeth Tanner, director of advocacy and strategic partnerships.

The group returned from a ten day visit to Morocco earlier in March. This international experience, along with a weeklong experience in Washington, DC, form the highlights of a series of seminars that also take the leaders to locations all around the state of Minnesota, to give them in-depth exposure to the various regions and economic segments of the state.

Three hundred people, including many MARL alumni and agricultural industry leaders, attended the MARL graduation ceremony and dinner, which took place at the Oakridge Conference Center in Chaska.

“MARL has been awesome, I am so grateful for this experience,” said Tanner.

She said the leadership course included tools for self-reflection and measuring progress in areas like emotional intelligence, which is a key skill/knowledge area for any leader.

Asked about how MARL has shaped and developed his leadership abilities, Ian Sandager said: “MARL has helped me to be able to speak more knowledgeably and to be able to debate and discuss issues respectfully, to see where we can meet in the middle and where we can’t. It’s helped me develop more patience in those situations. I am more passionate about my issues, but at the same time I have been able to increase my ability to speak about them in a respectful manner.”

Sandager went on to describe how knowing yourself more fully gives you the ability to lead more successfully. Just this year he joined the local board of directors for Rock County Corn and Soybean Growers Association.

“The big thing for me about MARL is assertiveness and being self-aware about my emotions,” Sandager said. “Overall I think I have grown quite a bit. The things they have you do, looking at yourself and the different measurements and testing you go through cause you to reflect, and it helps you to improve. It’s been challenging and at times it’s not fun, but I definitely recommend this program to anyone who wants to improve their leadership skills and knowledge base.”

Rochelle Krusemark farms in Trimont with her husband, and they raise corn and soybeans, and contract-finish hogs. Their sons remain involved in farming despite one being a full-time college student and the other pursuing his career as an aerospace engineer.

She found the trip to Morocco to be everything it was advertised as an eye-opening experience of a very different culture and its agriculture industries.

“We saw both sides,” said Krusemark. “We saw the small farmer that brings his produce by donkey and markets it in the open markets in the city, and then there is the other scale where we visited farmers with thousands of acres of peaches, olives, almonds, pears, oranges and lemons. We visited a huge cooler warehouse –an individual farmer had this set up so he could box his produce for shipping.”

Kirby Hettver, 37, is a farmer and ag equipment/seed entrepreneur.

In addition to farming corn, soybeans, alfalfa and small grains with his father and two brothers, Kirby sells after-market planter parts to improve performance, and equipment to manage dust at grain storage facilities, as well as selling seed corn and soybeans.

“The value of this Morocco trip to me was the appreciation of what we have,” said Hettver who represents, with his two brothers, the fifth generation of his family to farm on their land in Montevideo. Hettver said, “The vast contrast between the micro small farms and the large ones in Morocco–it was hard to find average size farms like ours. There were so many obvious differences, from the services available to farmers there, to the social fabric of their society. I came back thankful for what we have in the US. Looking at it from a Moroccan’s perspective, the one word I would use to describe their situation is ‘opportunity.’ There are a lot of positive changes going on for them. We visited a dairy coop where they were feeding calves to harvest weight, coordinating that system and making leaps and bounds in improvements to those coop members. Improvements in technology and efficiency are coming. More products are becoming available to Moroccans, products of a higher, more consistent quality for the Moroccan marketplace…I am excited to watch their progress and see where they are ten, 15 years down the line.”

Hettver, who is involved in his local corn and soybeans association in Chippewa County, hopes to go on to involvement with the organization at the state level.

“From a leadership standpoint the international trip was a culmination of what we learned,” said Hettver. “It put us in an atmosphere very unlike the US–The contrast, the perspective, helps mold your thought process, the way you approach different subjects. I think this process has helped me become a better leader.”

Tanner said that observing the changing political landscape in Morocco at firsthand was its own lesson in leadership. She found the briefing with the US Ambassador’s economic adviser and his agriculture advisor to be incredibly interesting.

“In the Arab Spring, Morocco underwent changes last year–not as revolutionary as in some countries, but still major changes,” Tanner reported. “The constitution was amended this past summer, and one of the most important changes was that the legislature now must have a certain number of women, a certain number of youths represented in Congress. An election was held in November…the new constitution set a minimum of 60 women members and 66 women were elected to parliament–that shows that the changes there are not just superficial. And while we were there, there was a lot going on at the Moroccan embassy. That afternoon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came into town as part of an international relations event.”

It was also another sign of how deeply the world has changed in the past decade. Clinton attended a groundbreaking for new embassy building in Rabat. It has been completely redesigned and upgraded as part of the continuing security overalls that came in the wake of 9/11 and US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The final meeting in Chaska was a chance for all the MARL leaders to look back and take stock. Krusemark has noticed how her approach to leadership has changed in the past year and a half.

“I really appreciate MCGA’s support of the MARL program,” said Krusemark. “Until you participate in it, you don’t realize the benefits. My husband says he can see the change in me–personally, I have become more discerning. Many of us that are leaders tend to be analytical, and often we see things in a black and white way. I am a former educator. I was in special education, so I appreciate diversity, and I always have, but being among the MARL leaders, which is such a diverse group, I appreciate diversity even more. Everyone has something different to offer, brings up things you never would have thought of. Another side benefit that I have loved is that we get to talk specifically about ag production when we get together. What’s working and what isn’t on our own farms, whether it’s the sprayer nozzles we just started using or tile drainage set up we have.”

Sandager said it was fascinating to see in Morocco an extremely different culture and geography and yet to see past those differences to commonalities between the two countries’ agriculture systems.

“At the most basic level, they face are the same issues we do,” said Sandager. “They need to find markets for their production. They’re trying to get the most money for their buck. Water is a big issue. A couple of farms we visited were converting to drip irrigation, which is much more efficient because less water is lost in evaporation. The thing is, because the government is subsidizing the change, everyone is going that way, and that’s led to an overall increase in water use–and that’s a scarce resource for them.”

Sandager also enjoyed learning about one of Morocco’s major industries–it’s second in the world in olive oil production. Sandager enjoyed learning about how the national school of agriculture collaborates with private industry to solve problems and continue to strengthen the quality of production, the consistency of the product and the Morocco’s position in the world market.

“We did some learning before the trip in Windom about different cultures, trying to recognize the differences and yet still being able to work together,” said Sandager. “You are forced to adapt or get left behind. You realize that people are different from you and you respect that and try to understand that, understand where they are coming from when they talk about an issue.”

Sandager, whose uncle Gene “Pucky” Sandager, is a past president of MCGA, looks forward to participating in the state level of farm organizations.

“I want to get involved in voicing the issues and having an impact on the things that are affecting agriculture and our way of life,” Sandager said.

The four main ingredients for a successful Farm Bill

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Corn growers in Minnesota will need four ingredients in the next Farm Bill, according to testimony John Mages gave at a House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill hearing on Friday, March 23 in Galesburg, Illinois.

First, timing is crucial. Farmers need a full five-year Farm Bill this year, in order to plan for the growth in production that the world food market demands. To prosper and remain competitive in today’s global economy, farmers need a safety net in place to protect against periods of low commodity prices.

A successful farm bill will have to offer choices for the type of risk management producers prefer, according to Mages, who farms corn and soybeans in Belgrade, Minnesota. While one choice will work best for corn growers, rice and cotton growers may need a different arrangement geared towards the specifics of production and marketing those products.

Mages made a plea to “not harm crop insurance” nor to make further changes in payment limits–those limits were lowered two years ago and farmers would like to see them stay put, Mages said.

This was the second of four planned House Ag Committee Farm Bill listening sessions to take place through March and April. Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma) presided with four other members of the committee in attendance. They took testimony from ten farmers who produce corn, rice, soybeans, wheat, sorghum, specialty crops and beef. 

On the Senate side, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) held Farm Bill listening sessions in nine locations across Minnesota this past week. Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

The Galesburg, Illinois listening session gathered testimony from two panels of farmers:

Panel I
Mr. David C. Erickson, corn and soybean producer, Altona, Illinois
Mrs. Deborah L. Moore, corn, soybean, and beef producer, Roseville, Illinois
Mr. John Mages, corn and soybean producer, Belgrade, Minnesota
Mr. Blake Gerard, rice, soybean, wheat, and corn producer, McClure, Illinois
Mr. Craig Adams, corn, soybean, wheat, hay, and beef producer, Leesburg, Ohio

Panel II
Mr. John Williams, sorghum, corn, wheat, and soybean producer, McLeansboro, Illinois
Mr. Gary Asay, pork, corn, and soybean producer, Osco, Illinois
Mr. Terry Davis, corn and soybean producer, Roseville, Illinois
Mr. David W. Howell, corn, soybean, pumpkin, and tomato producer, Middletown, Indiana
Ms. Jane A. Weber, specialty crop producer, Bettendorf, Iowa

The next House Ag Committee field hearing will take place Friday, April 20, 2012 at  9:00 a.m. CDT at the Magouirk Conference Center (4100 W. Comanche, Dodge City, KS 67801).

AC Knights make a big splash for renewable energy at ultralight competition

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

The Shell Eco-Marathon(R) Challenge in Houston is like the Olympics of student ultralight vehicle competitions, and out of the scores of teams, the Alden-Conger High school team (in south central Minnesota), called the Knights, won first place in the biodiesel category with a calculated fuel efficiency of 674 miles per gallon. The Knight’s E100 car–running pure ethanol fuel just like the Indy500 racers–placed second with an incredible 1,020 miles per gallon. It was the second year in a row that they garnered the silver in the E100 competition.

“It’s a very good program. It’s lots of fun,” said Jacob Sorensen, a junior now in his second year participating in the AC Knight’s supermileage teams. This year he served as team captain for the E100 vehicle, and served as driver in the competition. Sorensen said, “There’s never a dull moment, you’re always doing something, fixing something, working with your buddies. It takes a lot of initiative. What I love about it is you get a little taste of everything-math, chemistry, aerodynamics, engineering, fabricating–I think I’ll get to college and know what like and it will really help me hit the ground running. We have great advisors and sponsors helping us do this event every year.”

The biodiesel vehicle employs a chrome-moly frame to accommodate the incredible torque offered by a diesel engine. Chrome moly is both stronger and lighter than steel an. Team manager Drew Folie and driver Tommy Geesman led the biodiesel team to victory.

Alden-Conger will go on to compete in the MTEEA Supermileage Challenge that will take place Monday and Tuesday, May 14 and 15, at the Brainerd International Speedway. It will swap out the E100 engine in favor a Briggs and Stratton engine designed specifically for E85–the high ethanol fuel blend available at over 350 fueling stations across the state, made specifically for the growing number of Detroit-made cars, SUVs and light trucks with flexible fuel engine systems.

Alden-Conger has fielded ultra-light vehicles there for the past thirteen years, in a program headed by high school chemistry teacher Dave Bosma. The teams received ample assistance from advisers Jerry Reyerson, James Sorensen, Bob Korman, Curt Helland at the Houston competition.

More information about the Supermileage Challenge can be found at

Sorensen estimated that he and many other team members each put about 150 to 200 hours into getting ready for the ultralight vehicle competitions over the course of the year.

Sorensen, along with teammate Holly Reinke are featured in a video created by Shell during the first day of the competition. Also interviewed is Semira Kern from Granite Falls High School’s team, Shop Girls, who had a very good showing in the biodiesel competition. You can view the video at:

Another star of the video is the Knight’s E100 vehicle, shown in all its glory.

“The shell is clear lexon,” said Sorensen. “It’s a really hard, impact resistant plastic that’s very aerodynamic. We use an aluminum frame. One of the cool things about the vehicle is you can see right through into where the driver sits and the engine, transmission and all the mechanicals in the car. It’s 28 inches off the ground, eight feet long, 36-inches at wide at its widest. Our design replicates the raindrop–nature’s most aerodynamic shape—wide in front with two wheels and tapering to one wheel in the back. Our chemistry teacher, Dave Bosma, came up with the design. This is his 13th year. He’s great at getting the kids involved, and keeping them together on the mission.”