Conservation Innovation at its finest

Keith Hartmann used a Conservation Innovation Grant from MCGA to modify this piece of equipment that allows him to plant cover crops while side-dressing nitrogen fertilizer.

Keith Hartmann used a Conservation Innovation Grant from MCGA to modify this piece of equipment that allows him to plant cover crops while side-dressing nitrogen fertilizer.

Written by Nicole Krumrie, MCGA intern

When some people think of scientists, they think of someone wearing goggles and a white lab coat. When some think about a farmer, they tend to think of an older man wearing jean coveralls and a straw hat with a piece of hay hanging out of his mouth.

What many don’t consider is that a farmer is a scientist in their field every day.  This past week, I had the chance to visit two farms in Minnesota that received funds through the Minnesota Corn Growers Association Conservation Innovation Grant Program. Keith Hartmann, Brad Nere, and Kyle VanOverbeke have all been creating machinery on their farms to test the effectiveness of cover crops. These cover crops will protect water quality, increase soil fertility, and water movement beneath the soil.

Keith Hartmann
Keith Hartmann from Gibbon, Minn., loves to grow crops. “I am passionate about seeing green on the field, he said.” That passion inspired him to grow cover crops in his fields.  This year, he developed an intraseeder that applies liquid nitrogen fertilizer while also planting cover crops between his corn rows. He interseeded 120 acres of corn with cover crops. He used a mix of grasses and radishes. To plant one acre, Keith would need 10 pounds of seed at about $15 an acre.

Equipment was the biggest challenge according to Hartmann. “Figuring out the best set up for my equipment with clearance has been a work in progress. I have come up with some problems while planting my cover crops this year, and I will have to assess them next year.”

Something that really surprised Hartmann was the earth worm population in soil because of the cover crops he planted. The earthworms add to the richness and healthiness of Hartmann’s soil. “The soil smelled very rich where the roots were growing…it was really eye opening.”

Hartmann adds there is a weather value to adding cover crops within his corn rows. When it rains, the crops absorb all the water to avoid water pooling in parts of the field. Hartman stated a concern with farmers in his area is that the cover crops would compete with the corn during a time of drought. According to Hartmann that fear is a common misconception with farmers. “During a time of drought, the cover crops will be the first to wilt and die before the corn.”

Brad Nere and Kyle VanOverbeke
Brad Nere, along with his son-in-law Kyle VanOverbeke, have also worked to create an intraseeder to apply cover crops in-between the crop rows. Nere and VanOverbeke, of Danube, Minn, have been using cover crops for four years, and are still determining what mix of cover crops and timing of seeding works on their farm. “People think we’re crazy for trying to use cover crops and I hear it all the time,” Nere said.

After harvest, Nere and VanOverbeke plan to fence off parts of their field to allow their beef cattle to graze on the cover crops that remain on the field. This year, the two have spent around $18-$20 per acre on the 400 acres of crops that they planted in cover crops. Allowing the cattle to graze on the cover crops will offset some feed cost.

Some of the challenges for Nere and VanOverbeke were dealing with cover crops that lasted over winter and off/on germination with aerial application. There were a few surprises for Nere and VanOverbeke. They had success while interseeding during the V6 growth stage (the sixth leaf has grown and the growing point is about the surface) and they have also received better yields since interseeding with cover crops.

The two will use the results they collected this year to better implement cover crops on their fields next year. VanOverbeke said, “We really like the flexibility of trying new things to determine what works best on our farm.”

These farmers are working hard in their field, as scientists, to determine how to best plant cover crops. Cover crops are a great option to protect water quality, increase soil fertility, and water movement beneath the soil. Stay tuned for information about other innovation projects that we will cover at MinnesotaCornerstone.com. We will also be featuring some more information how you can apply for a MCGA Conservation Innovation Grant at FarmFest!

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Cultivating an effective message

Nicole Krumrie

Nicole Krumrie

Written by Nicole Krumrie, MCGA intern

When we, agriculturalists, want to get our message out to the public, one of the first things we do is boot up our computer to our social media channels. After our fingers fly on the keyboard writing out the message we want to say, with the simple click of a button our message is on the World Wide Web.

Might as well hit the “Staples Button” because that was easy.  There are many times when being a farmer and advocating for what we are doing or know isn’t so easy.

At our last CommonGround meeting in late June, a room full of women in agriculture had the opportunity to hear from Tim McNiff. The former KARE 11 reporter now works for Media Minefield, a public relations firm out of Minnetonka.  He shared with us ways to take our farming message to the media.

“Your message is your mission”, Tim said. “If your message doesn’t make you care, then the person on the other end won’t.”

As farmers, our farming story must be our mission. There is a lot of misinformation about what we are doing and why we are doing it, which is why we need to speak up and share our stories.

Figuring out what we want to say to others is sometimes the difficult part of sharing our story. But the norm for us is what non-farmers may want to hear. There may be times when it feels like we are saying the same thing over and over, but persistence is key to make sure that our perspective is being delivered. Sharing our farming experience and knowledge with others will create a more positive and understanding relationship between the farming and non-farming audience.

Sharing our stories and perspectives can allow farmers to be the seeds of change to bring the positive aspects of farming to light in media. To do that, we must first cultivate an effective message to inspire knowledge growth in others.

“Everything you do is an opportunity, use that to your full potential,” Tim said.

If you would like to learn more about creating an effective message, you’re in luck because I wrote a blog post about that!

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MCGA farmer-leader Tom Haag elected to National Corn Board

Tom Haag

MCGA farmer-leader Tom Haag has been elected to the National Corn Board.

Big news out of Corn Congress in Washington D.C.: Eden Valley farmer and Past MCGA President Tom Haag has been elected to the National Corn Board.

Haag is the first Minnesotan to serve on the National Corn Board since Jerry Larson (Elbow Lake) retired in 2011.

Haag is a fourth-generation farmer and farms with his son, Nathan. He currently serves on NCGA’s Research and Business Development action team and previously chaired the Grower Services team. In Minnesota, Haag chairs MCGA’s Government Relations committee. He served as MCGA President in 2012-13.

On behalf of MCGA and all Minnesota Corn Farmers: Congratulations Tom!

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Corn Views: Farmers are taking leadership role on water quality issue

Noah Hultgren

MCGA Presidnet Noah Hultgren

Written by Noah Hultgren
Minnesota Corn Growers Association President

A statewide editorial that appeared in ECM publications the week of June 24 called on agriculture to take the lead on managing pollutants. As farmers, we’re always working to improve how we grow food, feed, fiber and fuel for an increasing world population.

And when it comes to the important issue of water quality and managing pollutants, farmers are already playing an important leadership role.

For example, corn farmers in Minnesota voluntarily contribute millions of dollars through a state check-off that funds innovative research efforts at third-party institutions like the University of Minnesota. The majority of this research addresses agriculture water quality and seeks to help farmers better manage nitrogen fertilizer and improve agricultural drainage.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association also recently started a new Conservation Innovation Grant Program that helps farmers implement new practices to protect water quality. The Corn Growers and other agriculture organizations also support Discovery Farms Minnesota, which is a farmer-led effort to collect accurate, real-world data on sediment and nutrients leaving Minnesota’s farm fields.

These are just a few examples of farmers taking the lead on managing pollutants. Unfortunately, none of these efforts were mentioned in the ECM editorial.

In addition to farmer-funded initiatives and research, modern agriculture technology and improved practices help farmers target their use of necessary inputs like nitrogen fertilizer to better protect our lakes, rivers and streams. The amount of technology in my tractor these days looks like a modified version of the space shuttle. Technological advancements help me know which areas of my fields need additional fertilizer and which areas are fine with less. These advancements are very beneficial to area waterways.

More farmers are using a practice called “side-dressing” where nitrogen fertilizer is applied throughout the growing season. Side-dressing allows farmers to use the same amount of nitrogen, but apply it more often and in smaller doses throughout the growing season to help ensure that it’s available to the crop when needed and kept out of nearby waterways. Farmers also use common conservation practices like grass waterways and buffer strips to protect water quality.

Yes, farmers use buffer strips. They’ve been using them long before Gov. Dayton’s recent buffer law. The everyday conservation efforts of today’s farmers don’t generate proactive headlines, but they are making a difference and are another example of farmers taking the lead on managing pollutants.

As a farmer, it’s frustrating when report after report from government agencies and activist groups points the finger at agriculture for water pollution problems. Is there room for improvement in farm country? Absolutely. Many of the investments, initiatives and existing practices I’ve outlined are making progress.

And the news isn’t all doom and gloom. A recent report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency showed reductions in five of seven pollutants found in Minnesota waterways over a 30-year span. That’s meaningful progress we can build on.

What we need to continue the positive momentum is more partnership and less finger-pointing. Farmers live in the communities where they farm. The last thing we want to do is pollute our own waterways, or the waterways of our neighbors down the road.

Often we’re also told that improving our state’s water quality is too daunting of a task. As a farmer, I find that ridiculous. A big part of farming is overcoming obstacles. Striking the proper balance between maintaining a productive, profitable and sustainable farm operation while protecting our waterways is a challenge farmers are already taking on and will continue to do so.

All Minnesotans share the same goal: Better water quality. We might have some disagreements on how to achieve that goal, but it’s time to end the rhetoric and finger-pointing and start doing a better job of working together to achieve our shared goal.


Noah Hultgren farms in Raymond, Minn., and serves as President of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. This column was sent to newspapers throughout the state of Minnesota.

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Access to tractor safety equipment in Minnesota just got more affordable

Rollover bars can save a farmer’s life in the event of a tractor rollover.

A new program from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture  will reimburse farmers and schools up to 70 percent of the cost of purchasing, shipping and installing tractor rollover protection kits.

The program can help cover costs up to $500 of installing a seat belt and roll bar. It also provides assistance in helping farmers identify and price the appropriate rollover kits for their tractors.

Why is this good news for Minnesota farmers? Because farming can be dangerous. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, tractor rollovers are the leading cause of farmer deaths.

Minnesota’s is one of seven in the nation and will be administered by the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health. The organization says that roll bars and seat belts are 99 percent effective in preventing death and serious injury when tractor rolloevers occur.

Farmers and schools can call toll-free 877-767-7748 for more information or to register for a rollover kit.

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What I learned from an organic farmer

Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke

Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke

Written by Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke, Minnesota Corn Growers Association intern

Organic farming gets a lot of attention, both good and bad. As someone who comes from a traditional farming background with genetically modified crops and pesticides, I am usually quick on the defensive when it comes to a discussion around organics.

My eyes were opened by Carolyn Olson and Emily Zweber at the CommonGround volunteer training on June 24, at the Minnesota Corn office in Shakopee. CommonGround is a group of farm women who connect with non-farming consumers to answer questions about food and farming.

Each woman took turns introducing their family farms and farming practices, which actually sounded a lot more familiar than I expected. I guess the saying really is true, don’t judge a farm by its title.

At Fairview Farm in Cottonwood, Minn., Carolyn and her husband Jonathan raise organic wheat, corn, and soybeans. They also use cover crops and finish swine for a neighbor. The couple takes pride in how they raise their crops.

Emily and her husband Tim farm with his parents, Jon and Lisa Zweber, just south of the Twin Cities at Zweber Family Farms. The farm has been in the family since 1906. Because of the land topography the family decided to turn to pasture-raised dairy in the 1980s and have been certified organic since 2008. Besides the organic dairy, the family raises non-organic free range chickens, broilers, pigs, and beef.

What is organic?
After introducing us to their farms, Carolyn and Emily did some explaining on what it means to be U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic. They are third-party certified, operate under the National Organic Program (NOP, under the USDA), and follow rules and guidelines set up by the  National Organic Standards Board.

Animal welfare standards are similar to conventional farming, but no synthetic hormones, antibiotics, or unapproved inputs may be used. Organic farms are thoroughly inspected to ensure they are maintaining good standards. Carolyn brought some examples of the extensive paperwork and bookkeeping done on the farm that is mandatory to remain certified. It is definitely not a quick, nor simple process.

IMG_1581

Carolyn Olson and Emily Zweber talking organic farming at a recent CommonGround training at the Minnesota Corn office.

Hot topics that often arise in organic-focused discussions are antibiotics, weeds, and feeding the world. Emily and Carolyn addressed them all.

Sick animals
The argument for the use of antibiotics makes sense, and there are also many good reasons as to why some farmers choose not use them. Emily says step No. 1 in their plan of attack is prevention. Vaccines are an important part of cows’ lives because they can prevent many diseases and infections before they can happen. Calves get colostrum for a boost and the bedding and facilities are always kept clean.

Consumer-driven demand for antibiotic-free animal products is a driver of the organic industry. In reality, few antibiotics are actually needed. The bottom line, though, is if antibiotics are they only way to save an animal, they will be given antibiotics, even on organic farms. An unnecessary lost life is the last thing that any farmer wants. The animal will not be able to go back into organic production and will be sold. On a dairy farm, the milk collected from the treated animal is kept separate and dumped.

Killing those pesky weeds
Pesticide use is another common talking point for proponents of organic agriculture. I always asked the question, “So what do you do with weeds?”

Carolyn’s answer: “We have a variety of cultivators.” Different equipment is used for different stages of the growing season, for different crops, and for different weeds. I was particularly interested in the flame weeder. To me, this sounded like some sort of action movie contraption with big balls of fire and cool sound effects. Even though it wasn’t pulled out of last week’s blockbuster film, a flame weeder is still a pretty cool contraption.

The weeder has torches that fit between the rows of the crop that hit the weeds with a blast of heat. The point isn’t to end up with a crispy weed, but to draw out the moisture from the weed that is necessary for nutrient movement throughout the plant. Many adjustments need to be made in each weeding situation to prevent the crop itself from being harmed.

Feeding the world
“But how are you going to feed the world on organic” is a common question, one I am too guilty of asking.. Many organic farmers do not see conventional agriculture as a competitor. There is a market for both products and when it comes down to it, “All farmers are working hard. It’s our passion,” Carolyn said.

Emily also had a great point of view: “We’re farming in the best way for our family, farm, and animals. If you don’t agree, go find another farmer to support. Just support agriculture.”

In today’s world of media wars and google Ph.Ds. it’s important to stop and see the tassels sometimes. Marketing campaigns that pit organic versus conventional aren’t really pro one or the other. They’re simply anti-agriculture. Farmers have the same goal, whether they’re certified organic or not. Farmers are producing the food we eat, the fiber we wear, and the fuel we use every day. Supporting agriculture should be an easy choice, a choice we all make.

At the end of the day I think that Carolyn brought us back to what is truly important. “We should ALL be proud of what we are producing.”

Big or small, organic or conventional, we are all agriculture, and THAT is our CommonGround.

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Some really smart people just refuted the anti-science, non-GMO crowd

Farmers have a new partner in the battle to end fear-mongering and misinformation about biotechnology and GMOs: 107 Nobel Laureates.

The Laureates recently signed a letter directed at Greenpeace, the United Nations and all governments to support crops and foods improved through biotechnology. The Laureates wrote: “The United Nations Food & Agriculture Program has noted that global production of food, feed and fiber will need approximately to double by 2050 to meet the demands of a growing global population. Organizations opposed to modern plant breeding, with Greenpeace at their lead, have repeatedly denied these facts and opposed biotechnological innovations in agriculture. They have misrepresented their risks, benefits, and impacts, and supported the criminal destruction of approved field trials and research projects.”

Who are these Nobel Laureates? In a nutshell, they’re really smart people — some of the smartest in the world — in the fields of chemistry, medicine and physics. There are even a few economists and literature experts who signed onto the letter.

The support of these Laureates is yet another blow to the increasingly scrutinized anti-GMO movement. When it comes to GMOs and biotechnology, science and facts are winning out over fear and misinformation.

It’s important that farmers and others in the scientific community keep this positive momentum going.

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A Crystal Ball? U of M researcher looking at climate change and the impact on corn

IMG_1460“Climate change increasingly poses one of the biggest long-term threats to investments.”  

— Christiana Figueres (Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)

The battle with climate change comes with a battle with uncontrollable, unpredictable weather. University of Minnesota’s Dr. Tim Griffis is looking at giving farmers a head start.

“Nobody can know the future,” Griffis said, “But we need the best data and models possible for making informed decisions about the future.”

Funded partly by the Minnesota Corn Research  & Promotion Council, Griffis and his team are taking a look at how corn produced in Minnesota will fare in the coming years as the climate continues to change.

In order to do this, nine rhizotrons have been built in greenhouses on campus. The rhizotrons, square chambers that allow access for sampling and data collection, are filled with soil from Kenyon, Minn.. Six of the rhizotrons are fully functional. All six are planted to corn, with three receiving current average rainfall amounts and three receiving predicted average amounts for the next 30 years. The current experiment utilizes gas chambers that close and open every 10  minutes to analyze the gaseous emissions at the ground level.

The other three rhizotrons are a work in progress, as they are being built into mesocosms. A mesocosm is a completely enclosed chamber where environmental conditions can be controlled. Some of the variables used will be temperature, CO2 levels, precipitation, and air movement. Griffis plans to have all three mesocosms functioning and planted by mid-summer.

IMG_1479How does this help farmers?
While this work may seem  irrelevant to the farmer, it may act as a “crystal ball” of sorts. The data and information being recorded will help scientists see how corn would do if the predicted climate models occur. This allows farmers to prepare for future growing seasons by choosing the best hybrids for the situation. It also allows genetics researchers to focus on improving current hybrids to adapt to the changing climate conditions.

The work going on in the mesocosm facility is important, as it isn’t easy to do this work out in the field.

Griffis is working with two graduate students, a lab technician, undergraduate interns, and several other researchers. What is great about the facility is that it allows many people to collaborate. It is also a great learning environment and it is benefitting many classes taught at the university.

Other projects
Because it allows many researchers to collaborate, there is more than one project ongoing in the mesocosm facility. One of these “side-dressed” projects is looking at nitrogen fertilizer application and removing the concentrated nitrates from drainage water. Results from this experiment could have huge impacts on how we apply fertilizers and drain the water runoff, resulting in improved water quality throughout the state

IMG_1471Other additions to the program include NH3 (ammonia) sensors to detect the emissions from the soil.

The bottom line is that our climate is changing. There are acts and guidelines we follow to try and reduce emissions and wastes, but the ball is already rolling and farmers  have to be prepared for when it gets to us. Griffis and his team are on their way to helping farmers take the best steps to being ready for a new growing environment.


This post was written by Haleigh Ortmeier-Clarke, Minnesota Corn Growers Association intern.

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9 reasons you should attend “Tasseldega Nights” at Deer Creek Speedway on Saturday

Ted Tassel hopes to see you at "Tasseldega Nights" this Saturday at Deer Creek Speedway.

Ted Tassel hopes to see you at “Tasseldega Nights” this Saturday at Deer Creek Speedway.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association is sponsoring “Tasseldega Nights” at Deer Creek Speedway this Saturday, July 16. Gates open at 3:30 p.m. and racing starts at 6 p.m.

Thinking about going but aren’t quite sure if you should? Here are the top 9 reasons why you should take the plunge and head out to “Tasseldega Nights” this Saturday:

  1. It’s free. Yes, FREE! Minnesota’s corn farmers are covering your admission. Bring family, bring friends, bring the neighbor you don’t like. It’s all free!
  2. Ethanol fueled. “Tasseldega Nights” is a great way to support clean, renewable, homegrown ethanol fuel. Many drivers at Tasseldega will be using ethanol. If you don’t know much about ethanol, coming to “Tasseldega Nights” is a great way to learn.
  3. Maizey and Ted Tassel. Your kids can dance, take selfies and give high fives to Maizey and Ted Tassel, MCGA’s fun-loving mascots. Maziey and Ted have also been known to wander the stands to pass out beads and free T-shirts during the races.
  4. Agriculture technology. Want to check out a drone? How about a hydroponic grow box or a soil compaction probe? You’ll see all of those things and more inside of the AgCentric Technology Trailer at “Tasseldega Nights.” Believe us, this trailer is cool. More details here.
  5. Free family fun. Gates open at 3:30 p.m. for free family fun activities. There will be a magician, live music, games, and other fun activities. Get there early!
  6. Jonathan Olmscheid. Who is Jonathan Olmscheid? He’s a Minnesota racer who runs his car on ethanol fuels. He’ll have his car outside the grandstand before racing begins, giving you the opportunity to sit behind the wheel and take pictures with an actual race car.
  7. Beads and other trinkets. MCGA will be handing out ethanol-themed beads, coolers, sun screen and other goodies. Who doesn’t love loading up on fun trinkets?
  8. It’s Deer Creek. Deer Creek Speedway is a great track run by people who support agriculture and area farmers. The atmosphere is always fun and family friendly. When those engines start rumbling and the dirt starts flying, it’s hard to not have a fun night at Deer Creek Speedway.
  9. It’s free. In case you missed it the first time: “Tasseldega Nights” is free. Yes, FREE!
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Never stop speaking out: Here’s our letter to the EPA on the the Renewable Fuel Standard

POET Biofuels near Albert Lea, Minn.

POET Biofuels near Albert Lea, Minn.

Ethanol fatigue is a real thing.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to try and tear apart the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), leaving exasperated corn farmers and supporters of clean, renewable, homegrown ethanol banging their heads against their desks and saying, “We gotta fight this battle all over again?”

Unfortunately, yes, we have to fight that battle all over again.

Here at the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), we know mustering up the energy to fight the same old battle about ethanol and the RFS can be tiresome. We also know that it feels like your voice doesn’t matter.

These feelings are understandable. These feelings are also exactly what EPA and ethanol’s critics hope for.

They want ethanol supporters to feel beaten down. Once the the pro-ethanol crow is too tired to stand up and speak out, that’s when EPA can truly cave in to Big Oil’s demands and deal a crippling blow to ethanol fuels.

Here at MCGA, we feel frustrated, but we’re not going to stop standing up for our corn farmers and homegrown ethanol. We can take any punch EPA and Big Oil throws at us, then come back with an uppercut and powerful right hook of our own.

We sent two Minnesota corn farmers to Kansas City to speak at a public hearing on the RFS. We also encouraged farmers and ethanol supporters to submit comments about EPA’s latest proposal to slash the corn ethanol portion of the RFS.

Finally, MCGA submitted its own comment letter on the RFS earlier this week. You can read it below.

As frustrating as it can be sometimes, never stop standing up and speaking out for ethanol, corn farming, agriculture and other issues that impact your way of life. If you don’t speak out, who will?

(PS — For those of you unfamiliar with the RFS, it’s a piece of legislation passed by Congress in 2005 and amended in 2007 that sets annual targets for the amount of homegrown biofuels blended in our nation’s fuel supply. EPA’s proposed cuts to the RFS would damage air quality, limit choices at the pump and could cost corn farmers up to $271 million in lost revenue.)

July 11, 2016

Ms. Julia MacAllister
Office of Transportation and

Air Quality Assessment and Standards Division

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
2000 Traverwood Drive

Ann Arbor, MI  48105

RE: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2016-0004

Dear Ms. Julia MacAllister:

On behalf of the more than 7,200 members of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), we request that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adhere to the statutory requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for the non-advanced biofuel (conventional) category.  Corn starch ethanol provides the predominant fuel volumes in the RFS today and as new technologies continue to advance, corn starch ethanol paves the way for other renewable technologies to gain market opportunity through the RFS program.

EPA cited a lack of compatible fueling infrastructure to distribute ethanol blended fuels to consumers as the justification for the proposed rule change for 2017.  MCGA believes this justification is flawed.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently introduced one of the most expansive renewable fuel infrastructure grant programs in the history of the United States to address EPA’s concern.  The Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) allows partners such as state commodity organizations, biofuels advocacy groups, biofuels industry, and others to match USDA funding.  The response was incredible, with 21 states offering $110 million worth of matching funds.  In 2016, $220 million worth of renewable fuel compatible infrastructure will be implemented.  It is estimated that 1,486 stations will receive fueling infrastructure, including 4,880 dispensers, and 515 underground storage tanks. Minnesota was awarded $8 million from the BIP grant program.  MCGA is proud to partner with 18 ethanol plants, health/industry advocacy associations, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in this opportunity to expand fueling infrastructure.

In addition to the investment in flex pumps and compatible tank systems, MCGA is fully engaged in the Department of Energy (DOE) Optima4 (Co-optimization of fuels and engines) program.  DOE is looking for opportunities to develop low carbon intensity transportation fuels that reduce our dependence on petroleum and bridge the gap to the next generation of energy efficient transportation systems.  The corn stakeholders have been working with the automobile manufacturers, agricultural industry partners, technical agency researchers, and pump manufacturers to apply the principles of the Optima program.

Today, Minnesotans have access to more than 300 stations that offer E85.  Beginning in September of 2013, a broad coalition (including MCGA) invested in ethanol infrastructure and helped install more than 40 stations with 120 flex-fuel pumps throughout the state. The flex pumps provide consumers multiple fueling options including: normal grades of gasoline; ethanol blends like E15, E30 or E85; diesel; or non-oxy premium for small engines and legacy vehicles. This epitomizes consumer choice at the pump.

The retailers with flex-fuel pumps have gained market opportunity with their consumers.  The E15 (15% ethanol/85% gasoline) blend allows a station owner to offer an 88 octane (mid-grade fuel) for up to $0.10 less  per gallon than grade gasoline (87 octane) in Minnesota.  This blend is approved for use in all vehicles manufactured in 2001 or newer, representing approximately 80% of vehicles on the road today. Retailers offering renewable blends have increased their sales by 20%.  The benefit to the consumer at the pump is cost savings and access to a mid-grade fuel.  The RFS is working — stations are competing based on fueling options made available to the consumer.  EPA should not reduce corn starch ethanol when it is providing a less expensive fuel option for consumers and creating a competitive fueling market. Corn starch ethanol is paving the way for other renewable fuel sources to gain market access and a reduction in the RVO will undermine this progress.

Ethanol has created economic opportunities in Minnesota.  There are 21 ethanol plants in Minnesota (nearly half of which are farmer-owned cooperatives) that support nearly 18,116 jobs1. Ethanol has rejuvenated the rural economy in many parts of the state leading to better schools, updated infrastructure, and vibrant main street businesses2. The RFS has been a significant factor in economic2 gains.  Minnesota’s ethanol industry contributes $2.132 billion to the states gross domestic product and $7.372 billion in gross sales.  Volume of ethanol produced increased 11%2 in 2015 compared to 2014.  In addition, ethanol adds $1.5 billion to the Minnesota corn crop each year through co-products from the ethanol process2 including Distillers Grains, Gluten Feed, Gluten Meal, Corn Oil, Carbon Dioxide, and Green Chemicals.

There are also health benefits of corn ethanol.  The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released an annual report this past July (Life and Breath report3) on the quality of our air in Minnesota and how it is affecting the public health.  A major source of air pollution is from mobile sources or tailpipe emissions.  This report estimates there are 2,100 deaths, 200 respiratory hospitalizations, 91 cardiovascular hospitalizations, and 400 emergency room visits for asthma in Minnesota as contributed to by mobile sources.  The EPA should be  working to reduce air pollution.  We should not cut a renewable fuel source (corn starch ethanol) that provides an immediate solution to displace petroleum.  At  the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris, 64 countries mandated the use of ethanol in their fuel supply to combat climate change. There was no mention of ethanol in the Climate Plan for the United States.  Displacing gasoline’s aromatic hydrocarbons with ethanol reduces primary and secondary emissions of toxic air pollutants, including particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds.  Unfortunately, the United States government is overlooking ethanol as part of the solution for our air quality issues and Climate Change.

Instead of cutting the RFS, EPA should work to  solve issues like air quality, climate change, and market barriers.  Obstacles like Reid Vapor pressure – an unnecessary regulation that blocks the sale of E15 to non flex-fuel vehicles during the summer months — should be removed to  advance the adoption of E15. If all gasoline contained 15 percent ethanol, we’d replace 7 billion gallons of foreign oil and remove as much as 8 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions from the air annually.

In summary, lower RVO numbers are bad for farmers and bad for all Americans.  The RFS was intended to change the way oil companies do business and spur investment in cleaner, low carbon, domestic fuels like ethanol. The RFS also was passed to boost investment in the infrastructure necessary to accommodate higher biofuel blends.  It was designed to give consumers more choices at the pump, lowering gas prices and move beyond today’s market reality where ethanol is used primarily as a gasoline additive to boost octane.

The RFS is a success and has played an important role in reducing petroleum imports, cleaning our air and strengthening the economic health of rural America.  Corn farmers have proven that they’re capable of growing enough corn to produce food, feed, fiber and fuel. Now is not the time to take America’s energy policy backward. Now is the time for EPA to preserve the RFS and keep American energy policy headed in the right direction.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Noah Hultgren
President
Minnesota Corn Growers Association

REFERENCES

  • Urbanchuk, John, M. and Norvell, Stuart, D. 2016. Contribution of the Ethanol Industry to the Economy of Minnesota (Agriculture and Biofuels Consulting, LLP)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/6t71i4pi8wacwav/MBA_MN_Ethanol_Industry_2015_Economic_Impact.pdf?dl=0

  • Fuels America Infographic. 2015. RFS Drives Economic Growth in Minnesota

https://www.dropbox.com/s/k5qtgyo08054gjv/Minnesota-RFS.pdf?dl=0

  • Bael, David and Sample, Jeannette. 2015. Life and Breath Report (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota Department of Health)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/izay5gr5dy14oxa/5%20Life-and-Breath-aq1-61.pdf?dl=0

  • Farrell, John. 2016. Co-Optimization of Fuels and Engines (Department of Energy)

https://www.dropbox.com/s/6jtt4ftwe24qsc9/Optima_Principles_farrell_co-optimization_sae__2016.pdf?dl=0

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