Future of ag rail service is “all about communications”

Ag Rail delays

Former MCGA president Tom Haag (left of speaker) participated in a forum on Thursday to discuss ag rail shipping delays.

By Jonathan Eisenthal

A forum in Alexandria sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture allowed farmers to share their concerns with railroad companies about the problems created by lack of timely rail service, which reached crisis levels in the late winter and early spring this year, especially for farmers in central and northwestern Minnesota.

Tom Haag, a farmer in Eden Valley and past president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), participated in a panel discussion: “Limited infrastructure is the bottom line. They’ve still got one line running through our area, the Canadian Pacific line. With only one track, they can only run so many train cars in one direction.”

Haag described for the other panelists and audience how local elevators for some farmers could not move enough product like corn to market because of the lack of grain cars. The full elevators stopped taking delivery on already established contracts. The delays meant farmers couldn’t take advantage of rising prices. The delays caused a substantial volume of grain that usually went to markets in the west to be hauled east by truck to ethanol plants and other local markets, causing the value of corn in those markets to drop.

“The MDA funded a study by the University of Minnesota and found that Minnesota corn farmers lost more $100 million dollars from these delays,”Haag said.

He added that the elephant in the room went unrecognized: “The increase in traffic from oil fields was never brought up. They seemed to want to stay away from that as much as they could.”

A panel composed of railroad company representatives “discussed the challenges that faced the railroads, and all the things they are doing to try to expand for the future,” reported Anna Boroff, public policy director for MCGA. She said, “They predict that by harvest they will be caught up and back to ‘normal.’ The export possibilities are still looking good. Together with rising yields, the rail companies favor increased investment in infrastructure and increasing capacity.”

The companies such as Canadian Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Twin Cities & Western (a short rail company) echoed the farmers’ concern with timely delivery of rail service capacity. They also voiced concerns about the burden of regulatory intervention.

“The railroads said they are building more grain hopper cars, they are getting more locomotives, they are getting more people hired,”Haag said. “To me, still the big problem is that the train tracks have not expanded capacity since it they were first built. Economics is a big part of the picture. We all know the oil companies get their needs met because they have the money to spend, so they can get the cars when they need them. When it comes to grain, or bringing fertilizer, there is not as much profit to be made —they cannot charge as much and still have farmer customers.”

Haag observed that infrastructure is basic to the long-term competitive position of the United States in the global economy. It comes down to jobs and dollars. Haag also believes the state needs to revisit the issue of building up its livestock and renewable fuels industries: bigger local markets for grain would have many advantages, including relieving rail congestion.

Mike Steenhoeck from the Soy Transportation Coalition made an impassioned plea for greater investment in transportation infrastructure, though he said policy makers were timid when it came to the issue of raising taxes to support transportation.

“If you have a transportation system that serves agriculture, it will serve the entire economy,” Boroff reported Steenhoeck’s position. “The reason we do as well internationally as we do is not because of lower cost of production — places like Brazil are able to produce crops more cheaply than American farmers. Brazil has the most navigable waterway system in the world, but it is not near agricultural production areas. Our main waterway, the Mississippi/Missouri River system goes through our most productive farmland.”

Haag noted that farmers within a two-hour drive of the Twin Cities have good access to river ports. However, Minnesota producers face an added challenge that farmers in Iowa and points south do not — the barge shipping industry in Minnesota closes down for the winter.

“The meeting was productive in a way,”Haag said. “Pointing fingers and hollering and screaming doesn’t get anybody anywhere. It only makes more enemies. Instead, it works much better if you try to establish better communications. So that means if you are farmer and you deliver to Elevator A all the time, you’ve got to make sure and talk to them about what they’ve got planned for the fall. Do they have trains lined up so the farmer can count on moving his the product. If not, that farmer’s got to put pressure on the elevator to go talk to someone —to say, I’ve got ‘x’amount of corn and beans coming in, so I need a certain amount of trains to make sure this thing happens.”

“The future of this thing is all about communications,”Haag said. “We (farmers) are going to have to play a bigger part by talking about what we need.”

The forum, called “Envisioning the Future of Agricultural Freight in Minnesota” was supported by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Minnesota Grain and Feed Association and the Midwest Shippers Association.

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10-year-old “cool runner” using ethanol to fuel her drag racing career

Than Hansen family, from left: Victoria, Luke, Kaye, Corey and Gloria.

By Jonathan Eisenthal

Ten-year-old Gloria Hansen plans to launch her racing career this month.

When she gets behind the wheel, Gloria depends on E98 — a racing fuel that’s 98 percent ethanol, to keep her single stroke, air-cooled engine running cool and smooth, and getting her going faster than 60 miles-per-hour within seconds.

She follows in the footsteps of her dad Corey, who raced all over the Midwest in his late teens and 20s.

As a “junior dragster,” Gloria competes with other kids on a one-eighth mile strip.

At this level of competition, vehicles have a clutch very similar to a snowmobile engine. The driver revs the engine until the clutch engages. To achieve drag racing speed and make a winning run, the racer starts with feet on the brake and the accelerator at the same time.

“Then when she gets the green light, Gloria releases the brake and puts the pedal all the way to the floor to get that hard start. The clutch engages and she’s off,” Corey described.

Gloria has done practice runs, but still needs to get her license in order to compete. The family will head down to their “home track” in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where a tech inspector will watch as Gloria demonstrates that she knows how to stop, how to turn off the engine and how to drive safely.

Corey and Kaye Hansen farm south of Austin, Minnesota, where they raise corn, soybeans and a few beef cattle. Their oldest, Victoria, 12, loves car shows and car racing, but doesn’t care for the drag strip, whereas Gloria’s inclination runs exactly the opposite. She’s always loved the dragstrip. And their youngest, son Luke, has little interest in cars, but loves farm equipment.

10 year old drag racer

Gloria in her junior dragster car.

As a member of the Mower County Corn and Soybean Growers Association, Corey Hansen has been an active booster of homegrown ethanol. They found their way to E98 through a source at the local ethanol company.

“We knew that this car that we got for Gloria had been run on alcohol, that it was set up for oxygenated fuel,” Corey said. “We were going to try E85, but then a friend of ours hooked us up with a source for E98 and we jumped at that, because the higher the ethanol content, the cooler the engine runs. That’s the big thing with these engines — they’re air-cooled. The cooler it runs, the faster you can go. These are essentially lawn mower engines. It’s a five HP engine that your making to go 25 horsepower. A side effect of going for all that horsepower is heat, so running cool is a very important element.”

Ethanol companies cannot ship pure ethanol. Federal alcohol policy requires that they add at least two percent denaturant — typically a petroleum product, to make it undrinkable. When the company ships the denatured ethanol, it has to draw off a sample from each tank, which they keep until the fuel is delivered.

“The junior dragsters only use a cup of gas for a pass,” Hansen said. “I don’t know what they did with that sample ethanol before we took it off their hands.”

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Ethanol powering more Minnesota race car drivers

Cole Queensland

Cole Queensland in his ethanol-powered car at Deer Creek Speedway

For Cole Queensland, using ethanol in his USRA Modified race car has been a smooth transition. So smooth, in fact, it’s helped Queensland get off to his best start in 14 years of racing.

“I’ve had zero issues whatsoever,” said Queensland, who has two first-place finishes in five races this summer. “You hear stories and I was kinda nervous to do it, but it’s been great.”

Queensland races at Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley, about 15 miles south of Rochester. He’s one of 19 divers who started using ethanol this season in pursuit of The Ethanol Cup, a special points fund sponsored by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) for drivers who race using fuels blended with higher amounts of homegrown ethanol.

Queensland said racing on ethanol requires some adjustments to the carburetor, but once drivers get that squared away and make a few other minor tweaks, it’s smooth sailing. So far this season, nine drivers who run on ethanol have celebrated a victory in the winner’s circle at Deer Creek.

“When something new comes along, people are hesitant about it,” Queensland said. “Then once they figure it out, it’s the next greatest thing. That’s where ethanol is at right now. It’s growing in popularity in racing.”

Ethanol gives drivers a power boost. It also runs cooler, which is easier on the engine and provides drivers the option of using a smaller fan.

And just like it does for consumers, ethanol saves race car drivers money at the pump. Queensland uses E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline). He got his first tank from the Freeborn County Co-op in Brownsdale and paid $2.89 per gallon. Racing fuel costs around $8 per gallon.

“There’s a lot of momentum behind ethanol right now within the racing community for a variety of reasons,” Queensland said. “The cost, the horsepower, the fact that it’s easier on motors. A lot of positive discussion.”

Tasseldega Nights
Want to see ethanol racing in action? Want to learn more about the environmental and economic benefits of using homegrown ethanol in your own vehicle? Then come on out to Deer Creek Speedway on Saturday, July 19 for “Tasseldega Nights,” an ethanol-themed promotion from MCGA.

Race fans get into the track for free and can win a four-pack of tickets to a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway in August. In addition to great racing action, you can enjoy many other great family activities, as well as opportunities to talk to Minnesota corn farmers and race car drivers about homegrown ethanol.

See you at the track!

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Top 10 reasons to attend MCGA’s “Tasseldega Nights” on Saturday

Race fans get into Deer Creed Speedway for free this Saturday thanks to MCGA’s “Tasseldega Nights” promotion.

Minnesota’s corn farmers are bringing the ethanol-powered “Tasseldega Nights” to Deer Creek Speedway in Spring Valley on Saturday, July 19. Race fans get in for free, yes, I said FREE, but that’s not the only reason you should go.

Here are top 10 reasons why we hope to see you at the track on Saturday for “Tasseldega Nights.”

1. Win NASCAR Tickets! The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) will be giving away 4-pack of tickets and pit passes to the NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 23

2. Learn about homegrown ethanol. Ethanol is clean, renewable and homegrown. It’s also less expensive than regular gasoline and a great value during summer driving months when gas prices skyrocket. “Tasseldega Nights” attendees will learn more about the benefits of ethanol straight from Minnesota corn farmers.

3. Ag Cab-Lab. Give your kids a taste of the farming life by having them drive a simulated tractor or combine while harvesting virtual corn, planting soybeans or cultivating a field in the Ag Cab-Lab.

4. Biofuels Mobile Education Center. The 45-foot Biofuels Mobile Education Center is packed with interactive displays, videos and information about ethanol and other biofuels. It also has a virtual NASCAR simulator that makes kids feel like they’re actually racing around the track.

5. Sit in an ethanol-powered race car. Jonathan Olmscheid races on ethanol and will have his car near the grandstand before the green flag drops on Saturday. Kids can sit behind the wheel and get their photo taken with the Ethanol Racer!

6. T-shirts. Commemorate your family’s “Tasseldega Nights” experience with a souvenir T-shirt. These shirts always sell out fast at MCGA racing events, so get your early.

7. The Ethanol Cup. The race for the inaugural “Ethanol Cup” is on. Drivers at Deer Creek Speedway who use E15 (a blend of 15 percent homegrown ethanol and 85 percent gasoline) are competing for the brand new ethanol cup this summer.

8. Music, magic and more. The grandstands open at 4 p.m. A magic show for the kids kicks off at 4:30 p.m. and there will also be a pre-race band and other entertainment before racing begins.

9. High-five Ted Tassel. MCGA’s cute and cuddly mascot, Ted Tassel, will be roaming the grandstands high-fiving race fans, taking selfies, giving away prizes and celebrating with the winning drivers.

10. FREE admission! I know we mentioned already that “Tasseldega Nights” is free, but it’s worth mentioning again, in all capital letters: “TASSELDEGA NIGHTS” IS FREE!

See you at the track on Saturday!

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Rail shipping delays cost corn farmers $72 million

Ag Rail delays

Former MCGA president Tom Haag (left of speaker) participated in a forum on Thursday to discuss ag rail shipping delays.

A new report from the University of Minnesota says rail shipping delays cost Minnesota corn farmers $72 million in lower prices from March to May. The report also said 330 million bushels of corn still being stored on farms throughout the state was worth $122 million less because of rail backups.

The losses average about 30 cents per bushel of corn, which can be the difference between making or losing money in a given year for a corn farmer.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) co-sponsored an Agriculture Freight Forum organized by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that brought together farmers, agency leaders and the rail industry to discuss the issue. About 200 people were in attendance.

“Farmers rely heavily on rail transportation,” said Eden Valley corn farmer and former MCGA president Tom Haag, who participated in a panel at Thursday’s forum. “It was good to come together and discuss this important issue. Now it’s time to start working to get these delays resolved in time for harvest. The losses endured by farmers due to rail delays ripple throughout the entire rural economy.”

A spike in oil shipments from North Dakota and bad weather leading to congestion at rail hubs are blamed for the delays.

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Are the biggest retail gasoline chains offering consumers a choice at the pump?

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has graded some of the largest retail gasoline chains on whether they are providing consumers with homegrown and less expensive options like E15 or E85 at the pump.

Unfortunately, the “big five” oil-company owned chains gen a big fat “F” on their report card.

Fewer than 1 percent of Exxon, BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and Shell stations offer American made renewable fuels. More than 25 percent of independent retailers give consumers the option of filing up with ethanol-blended fuel.

The report card also discovered that big oil-owned stations make it difficult for retailers to offer ethanol blends by including provisions in distribution contracts that prevent the sale of E85 under the station canopy or requiring onerous labeling.

The entire report card is well worth your time and is yet another example of how the Big Oil monopoly has a stranglehold on your wallet every time you pull into a station to fill up. When you’re driving this summer and fall, do your best to fill up at a station that receiving a passing grade from RFA and supports consumer choice at the pump.

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MCR&PC elects new officers

MCR&PC officers

From let, the newly elected MCR&PC officers: Gerald Tumbleson, Chairman, Doug Albin, Vice Chairman, Chad Willis, Treasurer and Myron “Mickey” Peterson, Secretary.

The Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council (MCR&PC) recently elected new officers:

Gerald Tumbleson, Chairman
Gerald grows corn and soybeans and feeds pigs on a farm in Sherburn that has been in the family since the 1930s.

Doug Albin, Vice Chair
Doug began farming in 1976 and grows corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa on his farm in Clarkfield.

Chad Willis, Treasurer
Chad has been farming for 18 years in Willmar, where he grows corn and soybeans.

Myron “Mickey” Peterson, Secretary
Mickey began farming with his father in 1962 and today grows corn and soybeans with his four brothers in Sacred Heart.

The 11-member MCR&PC administers the efficient and effective investment of Minnesota’s corn check-off, which is a way for corn farmers to voluntarily invest in their own industry through a self-imposed fee paid at the first point of sale for every bushel of corn sold. Check-off funds are used to help corn farmers create new markets, increase productivity and profitability, improve water quality and environmental stewardship, and build a positive image for corn farming in Minnesota.

“Today’s corn farmers are investing in groundbreaking research that covers everything from improving water quality to boosting yields,” Tumbleson said. “We’re also doing more than ever before to connect with non-farmers on important issues about food, farming, energy and the environment. It’s an exciting time to be a corn farmer and I look forward to serving as MCR&PC Chair for the next year.”

To stay up to date on how corn farmers’ check-off investments are being put to use, follow @mncorn on Twitter.

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Corn farmers invited to attend ag freight forum on July 10

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is co-sponsoring a forum from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, July 10 in Alexandria on the future of agriculture freight in Minnesota. Farmers have faced challenges securing space on rail to move grain and receive inputs such as fertilizer or propane.

The forum, “Envisioning the Future of Agriculture Freight in Minnesota,” is being planned and coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA). Experts from railroad companies, government agencies and commodity groups will discuss strategies among rail providers and farmers for successfully moving product in the coming years.

The forum is free to attend, but pre-registration is required. To register, email christina.connelly@state.mn.us by Monday, July 7. More information on the forum can be viewed here.

Eden Valley farmer and past MCGA president Tom Haag will participate in a panel. Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson will also be there.

“We’d like to see as many corn farmers attend as possible,” Haag said. “Rail service will play a key role in the future of corn farming, so let’s make sure our voices are head on this important issue.”

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More Minnesotans are choosing homegrown ethanol

Flex fuel

Cars and trucks line up to fill their tanks with E85 at a flex fuel promotion earlier this year.

More Minnesota flex-fuel drivers are choosing homegrown, cleaner-burning and less expensive E85 this year.

According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, first quarter sales of E85 — a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline — are up 49 percent compared to the same period last year.

In all, 3.77 million gallons of E85 were sold from January through March. Second quarter numbers should be released in early July.

The average price for a gallon of E85 in the first quarter was $2.69, 65 cents less than regular unleaded.

As of now, E15 — a blend of 15 percent ethanol and 85 percent gasoline — is only sold at seven stations in Minnesota, but it’s also catching on. Since E15 was introduced in October of 2013, nearly 80,000 gallons had been sold through April.

Look for more Minnesota fueling stations to begin dispensing E15, which can be used in vehicles made in 2001 or after, shortly.

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FREE corn ice cream at the Minnesota Food Truck Fair on Sunday

Corn is CoolGet ready, Uptown Minneapolis. The Corn Growers are coming to the Minnesota Food Truck Fair this Sunday and they’re bringing FREE corn ice cream.

Over 20,000 people are expected to attend the Minnesota Food Truck Fair, which runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday, June 29 over a three-block stretch covering Hennepin Ave. South, Holmes Ave. South and 31st St. in Uptown Minneapolis.

It’s the perfect opportunity for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) to bring a positive message about farming and homegrown ethanol to an audience of food-loving non-farmers in the Twin Cities metro area.

Corn Ice CreamIt will also be a perfect day to try Simply “A-Maize-ing” corn ice cream, for free! The first 3,000 people to come by the MCGA tent, located next to the main stage along Holmes Ave., will get a free serving of sweet and refreshing corn ice cream.

Whether you’re an Uptown hipster, a foodie, a family of four, out enjoying a Sunday funday or just checking out what the Minnesota Food Truck Fair is about, all are welcome to stop by the MCGA tent to learn more about corn farming in Minnesota and chow down on some delicious FREE corn ice cream!

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