Archive for May, 2012

High MPGs offer supercharged learning

24th annual SuperMileage Challenge gives kids chance to shine in the “green” arena

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

On May 14 and 15, ultralight gas-powered vehicles took to the 6-mile course at Brainerd International Speedway for the 24th year of the Minnesota Technical Educators Association SuperMileage Challenge. Teams made up of middle school and high school students had constructed the vehicles around Briggs and Stratton small engines, and achieved results in the hundreds of miles per gallon of fuel.

In the largest turnout ever, 105 vehicles passed the technical inspection and competed. Most vehicles made multiple runs, and the teams fielded vehicles for mileage runs 1,007 times. Of those, 697 runs were completed—one every 53 seconds of the 15 hours of competition. But it’s not a race in the strict definition of the term—the vehicles maintain their speed within a specific window and compete to see which one can achieve the highest gas efficiency.

Four liquid fuel vehicle categories include one specifically for E85. The other vehicles utilize E10 fuel. For the first time this year, teams fielded electric vehicles. Alden Conger, a long time participant in SMC, won the E85 category with 535.65 mpg. However, when you realize that only 15 percent of their fuel was gasoline, and you want to measure how far a gallon of gasoline will take you when you are using more than six times as much ethanol fuel, this vehicle traveled at an astonishing fuel efficiency rate of 3,571 miles for every gallon of gasoline required.

Here are this year’s results

1st        Willmar                                                 644.30 mpg
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     594.91
3rd       Eden Prairie                                         397.80
4th       Stillwater                                              349.92

1st        Minnetonka                                          579.51
2nd      Water Town Mayer                            512.99
3rd       Chisago Lakes                                     437.75
4th       Alden Conger                                      422.21

1st        Alden Conger                                      535.65
2nd      Chisago Lakes                                     365.16
3rd      Stewartville                                          178.47                              
4th      Fergus Falls                                         156.26

1st        Alden Conger                                      489.84
2nd      Minnetonka                                          320.
3rd      Pequot Lakes                                       128.42
4th      St. Michael/Albertville                   101.48

1st        Eden Prairie                                         32.91 watt/hours
2nd      Grand Rapids                                       37.27  
3rd       Grand Rapids                                       38.08
4th       only three vehicles had 6 or more runs

Minnesota Corn Growers Association, longtime sponsors of the event, fielded volunteers and staff to help make the day a success. It was the culmination of many months of preparation and work by the student teams and their advisers.

“SuperMileage is such a great event and learning experience for everyone involved. It’s fun to see the cars these teams design and build each year and to watch them work together as a team to accomplish their goals,” said Jenna Kromann, outreach and communications specialist for Minnesota Corn Growers Association. She attended the event along with MCGA regional representatives Tim Dolan and Dottie Smith-Jacobs. “You can tell a lot of time and effort was put into each car and it’s very enjoyable to witness what these students have been working towards all year.”

Smith-Jacobs noticed that family and community are a central feature of the SuperMileage Challenge and that the pride of the students, their families and their teachers in the accomplishment of these young people makes it an intense and memorable experience, and incredibly valuable to everyone involved.

“Tim and I took a lot of students and teachers around in the MCGA ethanol-powered golf carts,” said Smith-Jacobs. “One teacher went around with us videotaping the students–they were so proud of their students. All the teachers really care about their students and what they were doing. There were a lot of grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters of the kids racing the cars. You could see the competing students smiling when they saw their parents and their grandparents.”

Kromann spent a day helping spread the word about the value of ethanol. In addition to offering informational brochures, Kromann played Plinko with many of the spectators, giving them a chance to have fun while learning from the quiz-show format questions about farming and ethanol.

Smith-Jacobs spoke at length with the teams running E85 vehicles and was impressed at the depth of their knowledge about this cleaner-burning, farm-based biofuel.

“The ethanol class–the students learn about the fuel, and see firsthand how the vehicles run on it,” said Smith-Jacobs. “The kids know a lot more about it, about how clean and cool it runs, and it’s neat to see kids being more environmentally aware and using our resources to the best that they can be used—the SuperMileage Challenge teaches all these kids about how we impact the environment. Whether they are running electric, ethanol, biodiesel or even regular gas vehicles, all these students are trying to be “greener.” With ethanol in there—even the regular gas has ten percent ethanol just like most of the gas in Minnesota—and they can see for themselves that it’s a good, high quality, high performance fuel.”



Miss America 2011: Teresa Scanlan, the perfect advocate for agriculture

By MCGA Agvocate Leah Johnson

Teresa Scanlan, Miss America 2011 held her crown up to me and said, “Style, success, scholarship and service. That’s what the four points on the Miss America crown stand for.” I had no idea what I was getting into when my collegiate Farm Bureau sponsored Miss America 2011 Teresa Scanlan to come speak at NDSU recently. I’ll be honest, I was intimidated by her perfectly primped style and maybe a little jealous. Never had I watched a Miss America pageant or put any interest in pageants in my entire life. Well needless to say, Teresa had me wishing I was Miss America by the end of her speech.

Teresa grew up in western Nebraska, in a town of 8,000 people. She didn’t grow up on a farm, which really gave me reservations of her credibility, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Being homeschooled with her six siblings, her parents taught her to appreciate agriculture and to know its importance in our society. When she competed in the Miss America pageant, her original platform was for education against eating disorders in teens. After she was crowned Miss America and got out of the agriculturally strong Nebraska state, she found her true platform: agriculture. As she visited school after school she noticed that most youth believed their food truly came from just a grocery store. She realized that not all kids were able to grow up less than a mile from a corn field.

This is why Teresa speaks about the three main things we as farmers, consumers and as a society must take action for agriculture. She explained that the average farmer is 57 years old and in the next several years we will need 100,000 new farmers to continue our agricultural industry. So informing our youth of agriculture’s importance and the future business opportunities there are in agriculture is imperative. Her second point was to educate and inform the public about agriculture. With all the misinformation constantly being distributed, we must disprove the negativity and create a positive attitude associated with agriculture. Her final point is one near and dear to her heart as Teresa plans to go to law school someday and become the President of our wonderful nation: A strong farm policy and presence in our current legislation will protect agriculture and allow us to continue to be independent on our food sources.

These three things seem easy to do but unfortunately it cannot happen over night. Teresa can speak to millions of people and open their eyes to what needs to be done to protect and grow our agricultural industry. But we as farmers, consumers and as a society must take the initiative. Using all the opportunities we have readily available to inform our communities and our country on the future of our nation and the dire need to preserve the rights and future of our sustainability in agriculture is vital.

Ethanol reduced “Pain At the Pump” by more than a dollar a gallon

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Last year, when crude oil prices soared, ethanol’s growing presence in the fuel market kept retail gasoline prices in check, according to a study published recently by Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural and Rural Development.

In 2011, motorists saved an estimated $1.09 per gallon of fuel. Based on the average household consumption of 1,124 gallons of gasoline a year, families averaged a savings of $1,200 compared to what they would have paid without the 14 billion gallons of US-made ethanol that was blended into gasoline.

“Now we have ten percent more fuel in the market, because ethanol serves as a substitute for gasoline,” Sheldon (Xiaodong) Du, assistant professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at University of Wisconsin, Madison. He said, “Think about supply and demand, the presence of the substitute depresses the price of gasoline.”

Prof. Du wrote the study along with Iowa State University’s Prof. Dermot J. Hayes–it’s an update, using the same methods as a peer-reviewed paper published in 2009 in the journal Energy Policy.

Du was surprised by the extent of the savings, but remains confident of the findings because last year represented three factors that all heightened the market effect of ethanol: there was much higher ethanol production than in previous years,  much higher crude oil prices (price per barrel rose from $80 to $95 dollars per barrel), and perhaps most importantly, crude oil refiners were operating at the very high edge of their capacity–without that ten percent surplus provided by the ethanol, spot price gasoline would have become much more expensive, Du said.

The report also looks over the past decade, during which most of today’s ethanol production capacity has been built, and found an average savings over that entire period of $0.29 cents per gallon, which translates to a savings of $40 billion dollars a year.

Reflecting on these findings, Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association said, “While it’s hard to imagine that gas prices could be even higher than they are now, this study clearly underscores that the current pain at the pump would be far worse without ethanol. Because ethanol makes up 10% of our gasoline pool today, it significantly reduces demand for oil and puts downward pressure on gasoline prices. Across the country, ethanol is helping save consumers money. In these times of high unemployment and sky-high gas prices, ethanol is one American-made solution that is providing some relief for battered American families trying to make ends meet.”

Telling Our Story

By MCGA Agvocate Kelsey Gunderson

Agriculture students, industry leaders and farm families are all great advocates for agriculture. Telling the agriculture story is so important and we have to be prepared for questions no matter the place or circumstance we may be in. It is said that the average American is three generations removed from the farm and many do not know where their food comes from.  Myths of factory farms, nutrition and technology within agriculture are some things that people hear and believe. It is understandable because for many this is the only information that they hear about their food and farms. 

As advocates for agriculture we need to tell our story and inform the public about the truth about agriculture. Through organizations like Minnesota Corn Growers, Minnesota Soybean Growers and Farmers Feed US, there are many opportunities to inform the public about these helpful farm organizations and about what farmers are doing to provide the food on our tables.  These organizations represent the industry in many ways, informing consumers through event appearances and social media.

There has been so much concern about our food and how it is being raised that through the National Corn Growers Association and United Soybean Board, a new program called CommonGround has been started. They are women who are excited to tell their agriculture story and want to have a conversation with you about where our food comes from. We need every farmer to be telling their agriculture story; we have much to tell and a great story at that. 

 At the University of Minnesota’s Ag Awareness Day, the Agricultural Education Club brought livestock animals to the middle of the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. Students and faculty were able to ask questions to agricultural students and industry partners as many were represented there throughout the day. This was a great opportunity to share our message and let others know what we do on the farm. There were many questions on GMO versus organic foods and questions about our farming practices. People believe what they hear and for many what they heard were myths, which is why we host an Ag Awareness Day, to promote the industry and answer questions that many consumers may have.

We encounter people in our everyday lives who have not grown up on a farm, do not know where their food comes from or question genetically modified foods versus organic. We have many chances to explain agriculture and promote the industry we care for. Everyone has a choice in what they want to eat or how they want their food produced, but we need to make sure they have all of the facts before a decision is made. Always being prepared to tell someone our story or inform people about the options is important and you never know when you may be in that position to tell your own agriculture story. 

We need to make an impact and tell the public the facts of agriculture. Our world depends on agriculture and people need to know and support it. Telling our story can make a difference. We see groups broadcasting their own message all over the media and it affects people. Now it is time to do our part.

A fast forward planting season

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Every major crop in Minnesota has blasted past five-year averages in panting progress this year, by a wide margin, according to the latest report of NASS-Minnesota (USDA).

“Corn planting was 73 percent complete, compared to 20 percent last year and 53 percent for the five-year average,” according to the May 7 Minnesota Ag News Crop Weather report. “Twelve percent of corn was emerged. Land prepared for soybeans was 39 percent complete. Nineteen percent of soybeans were planted, compared to 4 percent planted last year and 13 percent average.”

Minnesota even exceeds the average progress of the 18 major corn-producing states, though producers in all theses states are accomplishing planting progress faster than the five-year average. Nationally, corn producers had planted 71 percent of their corn acres as of this past Sunday, which compares to the average, from 2007 through 2011, of 47 percent.

“The weather is one of the most unpredictable aspects of our job, but this early spring warm up, coming along with the moisture we need is putting us in a very good position,” said John Mages, a farmer in Belgrade, Minnesota, and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “Minnesota corn producers are taking the ball and running with it.”

As of Sunday, Iowa’s corn planting was 64 percent complete.

Early corn planting progress in Minnesota correlates with higher plant populations and higher yield, research by University of Minnesota has found.

Across Minnesota, a very welcome half-week of rain kept operators out of the fields and perhaps kept them from finishing the corn planting altogether. Following a drought that began in late July, rains in late April and the first week of May have replaced much of the missing moisture.

“Topsoil moisture was rated 1 percent very short, 10 percent short, 71 percent adequate and 18 percent surplus,” the NASS crop weather report stated.

Locations across the central and southern tiers of the state saw rain amounts ranging from just over an inch in Aitkin (East Central region) to 5.84 inches in Pipestone in the southwest of the state.

TMDL study–public money chasing the wrong solution?

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

It may be frustrating, but seven years studying the southern reaches of Minnesota’s Mississippi River basin is just a start in understanding the workings of the river, including the level of cloudiness and the rate of sediment deposition.

However, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has concluded its South Metro Total Maximum Daily Load Total Suspended Solids study, a study that covers the stretch of the river that includes Lake Pepin.

Similar TMDL studies covering the Greater Blue Earth River Basin and the Minnesota River Basin–tributaries whose waters ultimately flow into the Mississippi–have also been published. The PCA has opened public comment periods for all three studies–the 90-day comment period concludes May 29.

The studies will likely direct state projects that attempt to reduce turbidity (cloudiness) and sedimentation in Lake Pepin, among other water quality goals. These projects would be funded by the Legacy Amendment state sales tax revenue over the next decades.

Farm leaders had hoped for a more cooperative and comprehensive state about water quality challenges and potential solutions, and find instead that it focuses narrowly on agricultural contributions to the sediment load, excluding all other sources as seemingly insignificant.

Asked about where the TMDL study falls short, Steve Sodeman, a passionate agricultural water quality advocate, ticks off a list of items not included in the study: the increase in rainfall since the 1940s, the increase in groundwater consumption which generates wastewater entering the Mississippi, the outright dismissal of a notion that there is a background level of natural turbidity and sedimentation (in the past 11,000 years sedimentation and erosion have moved Lake Pepin from Saint Paul to its current location south of Red Wing), the increase in impermeable surface area in the seven-county metro and throughout the Basin, and finally the sheer size of the Mississippi River Basin, which drains more than two thirds of Minnesota’s land area.

Even with all three TMDL studies, significant portions of the Mississippi River basin have not yet been considered. The Mississippi River in effect drains everything in Minnesota, except for a line of counties along the Dakota border, which drain into the Red River of the North, and the northern tier of counties, which drain into either the Red River or Lake Superior. A few counties in the southwest corner of Minnesota drain into the Missouri River. 

Another significant blank spot is the role that increased precipitation plays.

“Since the 40s, average annual rainfall in the Basin has increased from 27 inches to 31 inches–that four inches is an incredible volume of water,” said Sodeman, who is a crop consultant in southern Minnesota. “When they talk about solutions, it makes me think of the CCR song ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain?'”

Water volume is at the heart of the issue because this volume increases the amount of energy in the river and serves as the main mechanism for putting sediment in the water–stream bank erosion.

Climate experts like Mark Seeley talk about a trend toward increased energy in rainfall events as part of an overall global climate change. Ten-inch flash floods, formerly considered to be once-in-500-year events, have occurred a number of times in the past decade, precipitating an incredible amount of stream bank erosion.

The PCA study focuses on the increased volume from farm tile system outlets to the exclusion of other sources of increased water volume.

Yet, PCA documents note that water consumption in the state of Minnesota has grown constantly and that about a fifth of that volume comes from groundwater. All that groundwater eventually ends up in the wastewater stream placed in the Mississippi by 14 Metropolitan Council operated treatment plants and a host of community wastewater treatment plants throughout the Basin. The Water Sustainability Framework Report (also funded by the Legacy Amendment) cites this startling figure: water consumption in Minnesota rose from 1,238 billion gallons in 1998 to 1,476 billion gallons in 2005–a 19 percent jump in seven years. Some 315 billion gallons in 2005 came from groundwater–in other words new water introduced into the river system when it entered the wastewater stream.

“It starts to feel political when this major source of increased water volume is ignored and the only source found to be significant is farm tile drainage systems,” said Sodeman.

University of Minnesota Soil Physicist Satish Gupta believes much of the dynamics of sediment transport remain poorly understood. He noted that more than 30 percent of the surface area in the seven county metro region is impermeable or semi-impermeable, and this figure represents dramatic growth since 1940. Despite holding ponds and other engineered features, it would appear to be reckless to claim that runoff from all this developed land does not contribute to increased stream bank erosion.

Sodeman said research has not yet provided a comprehensive picture of the way the river works and if it did, it might make for more realistic goals, he and other farmers feel. When it comes to halting sedimentation in Lake Pepin, he points to the case of a doctor who built his multimillion dollar home at the top of a bluff along the Minnesota River outside Mankato, and then spent another $350,000 to stabilize the stream bank–An incredible expenditure of wealth to assure that a piece of land several hundred feet between the bends of the river, would remain intact. Can Minnesota taxpayers support really make a dent by fighting a natural force that has been in operation in this region since the end of the last ice age? Spending on that scale along the length of the Minnesota is an impossibility, and Sodeman and others wonder whether it is in the end desirable to so forcefully counteract a natural process.

“There’s no debate when it comes to conservation–farmers are interested in keeping soil and nutrients on our land and out of our streams, lakes and rivers,” said John Mages, a farmer in Stearns County and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “Our worry is that these goals, as worthy as they are, will be seen as a solution where they can’t possibly deliver that solution. Our hope is to head off false leads and find real world, practical solutions where possible, but also to accept conditions that are natural and not easily changed, to accept them for what they are.”

Time to give Toyota a piece of your mind about its misguided E15 policy?

(excerpt from article, “E15 gas brings conflict to pumps” by: DAVID SHAFFER , Star Tribune)

A new blend of ethanol and gasoline may soon show up at the gas station pumps — along with mixed messages on whether it’s safe to put it in your vehicle.

Motorists driving up to pumps for the new, higher-ethanol “E15” will see government-mandated orange-and-black signs that say the new fuel blend is approved for use in all 2001 and newer cars and light trucks.

Two of the biggest carmakers offer puzzling or contrary messages, right on their gasoline caps. Toyota warns on its 2012 model gas caps not to use E15. Ford offers less-explicit advice.

“When you pull up to the pump it will say you can use this, and then you turn to your gas cap, it says you may not use this — it’s going to be very, very confusing,” said Bob Ebert, service director for Walser Automotive Group in the Twin Cities.

In Congress, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is pushing a bill to halt introduction of E15 and conduct more research. “I think this is outrageous,” he said. “The government is telling consumers to use a product that the manufacturer of their car says will … void the warranty.”

Our Take:
The circle-slash through E15-E85 on the Toyota gas cap is frankly what Mr. Sensenbrenner should offer a law to prevent. E15 has made its way through rigorous government testing, has earned its seal of approval, and this move by Toyota car company has nothing to do with real world performance and everything to do with the prevalence of law suits with no merit.

E15, which is 15 percent ethanol, is now the most tested gasoline blend ever produced. After this exhaustive testing program, US Environmental Protection Agency has certified E15 as a fuel that poses no performance or emissions problems for cars and light trucks built in 2001 or later.

Along come the attorneys of Toyota car company, putting a finger up to test the wind of meritless civil suits, and they decide to throw a little proactive legal rhetoric on the gas cap to discourage people from using E15 even in its latest models. And if the motorists do fill up with E15, they have been warned. In this era of unending litigation, in which Toyota has been sued over totally unrelated performance problem—problems never fully proved to be more than a figment of the imagination, perhaps one cannot blame them.

But the weight of the US government in certifying this fuel should be enough. Especially when a very clear E15 label is required on every pump that dispenses the new fuel.

Toyota, and all the other car companies should be with the program by now. US energy policy regarding renewable energy has one main goal in mind—energy independence. Though promising new domestic oil sources are being captured, these represent a fraction of the energy we use in our vehicles. And even the Bakken oil fields and the Canadian tar sands will produce their final barrel at some point. Renewable, plant-based energy, like the solar power it captures, will be available for billions of years—as long as the sun shines. And current car and fuel dispensing equipment has no difficulty with E15. That’s been proved beyond a shadow of a doubt.

If you would like to let Toyota know what you think of its timid stand on energy independence, you can send email to them through their customer help web site at