What media outlets and biofuels leaders are saying after another RFS delay

EthanolIt’s been five days since the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) punted on finalizing Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) numbers for 2014. For a full summary of the announcement and a synopsis of the RFS issue, click here.

To add additional context to the delay, and to get a little bit of insight into what the future might hold for the RFS, corn farmers and biofuels supporters, here are a few snippets from national media outlets who have covered the RFS over the last five days. We’ve also included some brief thoughts after each snippet.

Putting the brakes on alternative fuels

This story from the Los Angeles Times discusses how corn farmers, biofuels advocates and entrepreneurs have encountered a new opponent in their efforts to grow the market for cleaner burning and homegrown alternatives to foreign oil: the White House.

Evan Halper writes:

Yielding to pressure from oil companies, car manufacturers and even driving enthusiasts, the Obama administration is threatening to put the brakes on one of the federal government’s most ambitious efforts to ease the nation’s addiction to fossil fuels.

The proposed rollback of the 7-year-old green energy mandate known as the renewable fuel standard is alarming investors in the innovation economy and putting the administration at odds with longtime allies on the left.

It has been disappointing to see the Obama Administration not fully support the RFS, a piece of legislation that is working exactly as it was intended to work. In fact, the administration’s inaction is actually resulting in an increase of greenhouse gas emissions.

Grassroots efforts

Leaders in the biofuels industry were surprised that the EPA delayed finalizing RVO numbers. Most assumed the original proposal would be slightly scaled back. In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dinneen says the efforts of corn farmers and biofuels supporters have been paying off:

“The fact that they have taken a step back tells me that all of the work that we did, all of the calls that we made, the letters that were sent, the emails that we sent to Washington to get the president to reconsider actually had the impact that you always hoped that it would.”

Dinneen’s right. Grassroots efforts such as sending over 7,000 letters to the EPA from Minnesota corn farmers and biofuels supporters made an impact. However, those grassroots efforts need to remain strong. The fight to preserve the RFS is far from over.

Today and beyond

But what about this year? Dinneen says in a separate interview that about 13.5 billion gallons of ethanol will be blended in the U.S. market in 2014. Ethanol remains in demand because its been 80 cents to $1 less expensive than gasoline for much of this year. From there, the industry will be watching RFS developments closely.

“This isn’t about 2014. This is about 2015 and 2016 and how you continue to grow the industry,” Dinneen said.

Media coverage and Big Oil talking points

Overall, media coverage of the administration’s decision to further delay the RFS has mostly been fair. However, as the debate heats up again heading into 2015, expect to see Big Oil continue to hammer home its basic (and unsubstantiated) talking points:

Here’s an example from a story in the Daily Caller:

“By failing to reduce the amount of corn ethanol blended into gasoline, the Obama administration today missed an opportunity to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mike Lavender, a policy analyst with the Environmental Working Group. “If we hope to reverse climate change, we need greenhouse gas reductions now, not in 2025, and reducing the amount of corn ethanol in gasoline is among the most effective tools at the administration’s disposal.”

Anti-hunger groups argue that the RFS has caused the global price of corn to skyrocket, which has exacerbated hunger in poor countries. It’s also caused prices for poultry, pork and other livestock to rise as well.

Here we have the Environmental Working Group, an anti-agriculture activist group that releases unscientific “reports” and compares farmers to “drunks at a bar,” being trotted out to raise questions about ethanol’s environmental benefits.

We also have a paragraph about the long dispelled myth that ethanol raise food prices. Food prices are impacted by the price of oil, not ethanol. Also, today’s corn prices are about half of what they were when the RFS was enacted in its current form in 2007.

Unfortunately, once the RFS issue is re-visited in 2015, we’ll probably see more stories that give some credibility to myths like these. That’s why it’s important that farmers and biofuels supporters continue their grassroots efforts to keep the RFS strong.

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Dassel-Cokato’s FFA Food Science team wins nationals

written by Jonathan Eisenthal

It was a taste of the real world of ultra-competitive name-brand food marketing. Dassel-Cokato High School’s FFA Food Science Team had an hour to come up with the most appealing wholegrain, low-sugar breakfast cereal possible at the 87th annual National FFA convention in Louisville, KY.

They beat out more than three dozen competing teams, winning the minds and discerning tastebuds of food industry professionals.

The team came up with “Hunger Grahams”—a sweet graham cracker biscuit cereal, its name a play on the popular book and film series, Hunger Games.

Asked how they outwitted the competition, Sophomore Lydia Meredith said, “We were able to flow with everything. We had a scenario written. Things we knew we wanted to say. And then we could vary it according to whatever food product we were talking about.”

They had to present to judges what the product was and talk about every aspect of producing the food — from receiving the raw ingredients to shipping the packaged cereal. They discussed the relevant food safety practices. They also had to show the nutritional calculations they used to arrive at the information in the nutrition label.

In addition to the team win, Meredith won first place individual honors in the competition. The Dassel-Cokato Food Science team this year also included Christina Babb (ranked 12th overall in the competition), Alyssa Torola (ranked 18th), Mistin Petersen (ranked 39th) and Kaitlyn Uldrych (who served as the team alternate). Each student of the winning team receives a $1,000 prize. Coach Danita Piepenburg accompanied the team and provided moral support, though, during the competition, she could not have any contact with the students or even be in the competition space.

The Food Science Team’s four starters and one alternate arrived at the competition knowing only that they were going to create a ready-to-eat breakfast food. They received the ingredient list one day before the competition.

“We didn’t know if it was going to be a yogurt drink or a sandwich, a breakfast bar, we had no clue,” said Danita Piepenburg, a science teacher at Dassel-Cokato who has coached the FFA Food Science Teams for a decade.

Before becoming an educator, Piepenburg went to cooking school and spent 20 years in the restaurant business. “In getting ready for the scenario the team got together and made all of these things. Then we talked about all the other possible scenarios. Then in practice we had them make products according to requirements I gave them. Nutrients, cost, where it’s marketed, how it’s marketed,” she said.

At the competition, all this took place in one hour.

Dassel-Cokato FFA

Dassel-Cokato FFA team members, from let: Lydia Meredith, Alyssa Torola, Mistin Petersen, Kaitlyn Uldrich and Christina Babb.

“For me, there was a moment, right after we finished our ‘Hunger Grahams’ presentation,” said Meredith. “The judges were laughing and smiling and overjoyed with us. Once we got out, we said ‘Yes! We did it. We won! There’s no way we can’t be in the top 10!” We had testing Wednesday and Thursday and then we didn’t find out until Friday night. So it was really stressful. We were in a big meeting room that seated a few hundred people. Every food science team that competed was there for our banquet and then they announced the results while we were eating.”

But the creation and presentation of a food product was just an hour of the competition. Team members took part in testing of their food science knowledge over the course of three days.

There was a 50-question test that deals with food safety, food quality, food-borne illness, food production, and chemical makeup of food. The students have to know how food is processed — at home, in factories and restaurants. They have to know how food is preserved. They have to know food industry abbreviations, being able to sort out “CPI,” the Consumer Price Index, from, “CIP,” ‘Clean-In-Place,’ a term for the automated cleaning systems used in dairy and other food processing industries that allows the cleansing of the internal parts of complex machines without disassembly.

“Food Science is a growing field,” Piepenburg noted. “Getting kids interested in (the FFA Food Science competition) can be hard because of the chemistry background required. They have to know what carbohydrates, lipids and proteins are. They have to understand how scientists test for those in the lab. Even understanding the role of micro-organisms in food safety has a foundation in biology.”

Food processing is Minnesota’s second-largest manufacturing sector with 44,700 jobs. Looking at the full spectrum of agribusiness and food production, the sector supports a fifth of Minnesota’s jobs and economic activity. The concentration of companies like Land O Lakes, Hormel and General Mills in Minnesota is no accident. Forbes rates General Mills as one of the best companies in the nation for women seeking corporate employment. Likewise it rates General Mills ideal for college graduates. Cargill, the largest privately held company in North America, is based in Wayzata.

“When it comes to food science, it’s a very broad field, and it includes marketing and planning careers,” said Piepenburg. “There are analytical jobs, like the chemist that tests a food to determine the components that make up a particular product, in order to develop its nutrition label.”

Dassel-Cokato won the state championship, held in Marshall last January, and sponsored by one of Marshall’s major food companies, Totino’s Pizza. The team, asked to create a gourmet pizza variety, came up with Chicken Alfredo with Spinach. The prize for the winners was a year of free pizza and pizza rolls.

As is often the case at nationals, high school graduates compete because they won at states in January of their senior year. Two of Dassel-Cokato’s teammates at nationals graduated last spring. Though they didn’t pursue food science careers, both have science in their sights. One of the graduates works as an EMT, the other, a freshman in college, intends to pursue an engineering degree.

“I love watching these students broaden their horizons and learn where their food comes from,” Piepenburg sketches out the value in this competition that’s not strictly career preparation. “When they eat a steak, knowing how this food came to be, from farm-to-table, the food safety aspect of producing that steak, the regulations the farmers and the processors have to go through to make it safe for us.”

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MCGA Radio: State tournament sponsorship

On this week’s Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) radio, Raymond, Minn., farmer and MCGA First Vice President Noah Hultgren talks about a new partnership between Minnesota’s corn farmers and the Minnesota State High School football, boys and girls hockey and boys and girls basketball tournaments.

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Once again, Obama Administration delays final RFS decision

EPA RFS Letters Minnesota

This stack of letters were all signed by Minnesota corn farmers and sent to EPA in support of the RFS.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice today announcing that it will not be finalizing 2014 volume standards under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) before the end of 2014.

Last November, EPA proposed slashing the RFS and cutting the amount of clean, renewable and homegrown ethanol blended in our fuel supply. Immediately after the proposal, Minnesota corn farmers took action.

More than 7,000 letters were sent to EPA by Minnesota corn farmers and biofuels supporters denouncing the proposed cuts. Criticism of the proposal from other states was also swift and loud.

Apparently, EPA and the Obama Administration heard the negative feedback and got the message. A final decision on this year’s ethanol blending targets has been delayed again…and again…and again. Finally, today, the Administration admitted it’s not going to announce this year’s targets before the year is over.

The grassroots action taken by Minnesota corn farmers and others definitely made an impact. This feedback has helped the Administration realize how flawed the proposed cuts were, and the questions it raised about our country’s commitment to homegrown biofuels.

However, further delays on this issue won’t make people less angry, only more confused and exasperated. U.S. corn farmers produced a record crop for the second time in as many years, despite the fact that prices have fallen below the cost of production in many parts of the country.

Now is not the time for additional uncertainty and indecisiveness on the RFS. Corn farmers need clarity, leadership and direction. Our country needs to re-establish its commitment to renewable fuels for the betterment of the environment and the economy, especially in rural areas.

Our grassroots action on this issue is not over. Corn farmers will continue making their voices heard and working with policymakers to ensure that the RFS is implemented as intended by Congress.

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CommonGround connects farming and non-farming women (part 2)

CommonGround

CommonGround volunteer Rachel Gray talking food and farming at Grillfest in Minneapolis this summer.

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

This is part two of a two-part series highlighting CommonGround, a program supported by Minnesota’s corn and soybean farmers. Click here to read part one.


 

From steak to seafood, farmers to foodies; GrillFest celebrates all things cooked over an open flame and the people who grow and eat it. This popular Minneapolis summertime event attracts more than 5,000 attendees each year and is one of Rachel Gray’s favorite CommonGround volunteer activities.

“At GrillFest I felt like I was connecting with people who are not as familiar with farming,” said Gray, who raises beef cattle in northern Minnesota. “They were eager to ask questions. They were curious. Many people had never even met a farmer before.”

CommonGround volunteers connect with other women, answer questions about food and farming, share what they do on their own farms and talk about some of the science and research behind it.

In a world where ‘spin’ and misinformation has made consumers increasingly cynical, Gray and other CommonGround volunteer’s hope open dialogues, like those had at the GrillFest event, will help consumers feel confident in the work that farmers and ranchers are doing.

“There are people who say CommonGround is just publicity, people trying to make agriculture look good, but that’s not the case,” said corn and soybean farmer and CommonGround volunteer Kristie Swenson. “We are farm women. We live and work on farms. Some of us have children and some have grandchildren. We love our families. We love our farms. We wouldn’t choose any other lifestyle. We are so blessed, and honored, to do what we do. We just want people to understand our perspective. And, at the same time, we want to understand their questions too.”

Looking ahead, there are 18 CommonGround events on the calendar for the coming year, as well as ongoing outreach efforts through social media and volunteer blogs. From farm tours to women’s expos, volunteers are striking up conversations about food and farming across Minnesota and the U.S.

And while CommonGround is funded by corn and soybean farmers, the conversations don’t stop with those two commodities. Wheat, barley, sunflowers, grapes, alfalfa, poultry, dairy cattle, hogs and sheep are just a few of the other crops and livestock grown and raised by the volunteers on both conventional and organic farms.

“CommonGround is a nationwide program. It isn’t just a Minnesota thing,” says Swenson. “One of the things that I love about the program: if I get a question about poultry, or livestock or some other crop that I don’t raise, I have this whole network of other women I can turn to, and I can say, ‘hey, I’m getting a question about this…can somebody help me out here?’ It’s such a wonderful resource and a great way to connect with other farm women, but also it helps me better answer consumers’ questions.”

In addition to answering consumer questions about food and farming, Swenson and Gray also find themselves answering questions from what could be the next generation of farmers. (Albeit, these questions are a little more light-hearted.)

“Our three-year-old son asks, ‘Mommy do you know how to drive the combine? Mommy do you know how to drive the semis? Mommy do you know how to drive this tractor?’ and I tell him, ‘Yes, I do,’” says Swenson.

With a new baby at home, Swenson has taken on the still-essential farm tasks of bookwork and management decisions, and has had to leave the field work to her parents and husband for the time being.

CommonGround

One of the 2014 CommonGround activities was an influencer dinner at Cook of crocus Hill in St. Paul.

“Having a baby, I haven’t had time to get out and drive any of the equipment this fall. It’s something that I do miss,” Swenson said. “I have been actively involved in farming since I was six years old. My first job in the summer was picking rocks. I still hate that job, but it’s a job we do every single year. Even this summer my husband and I were out in the bean field pulling weeds a week before my due date. My dad was asking, ‘Are you sure you should be doing that?’”

Meanwhile on Gray’s farm, she has 25 heifers she will sell next month, mostly by word of mouth. It’s a family affair, especially now that her nineteen-year-old son, Nick, has decided to spend the year after high school graduation working at her farm.

“Nick said to me, ‘Mom I just want to stay home and farm a year,’” says Gray, who is a former teacher. “I wasn’t really sure about that, but he looked at me and said, ‘Mom, you quit teaching to live this dream. And I want to see if it’s for me.’ How could I say no to that?”

If you would like to learn more about CommonGround and learn more about volunteers in your area, visit FindOurCommonGround.com/your-community or like CommonGround Minnesota on Facebook.


CommonGround is funded by America’s corn and soybean farmers and their checkoffs through the United Soybean Board and National Corn Growers Association. The program is also supported by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.

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New partnership brings together corn farming and Minnesota high school sports

Minnesota’s corn farmers kick off a new sponsorship with the state high school football, hockey and basketball state tournaments with this week’s Prep Bowl at TCF Bank Stadium.

Minnesota’s high school athletes work hard to be the best on the athletic field. Minnesota’s corn farmers do the same in our state’s farm fields. That’s why the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is proudly sponsoring this year’s Minnesota State High School League state football, basketball and hockey tournaments, which are broadcast live on KSTC-TV, Channel 45.

“It’s a great opportunity for corn farmers to reach a loyal audience that includes a diverse mix of urban and rural, younger and older, farmer and non-farmer,” said MCGA President Bruce Peterson. “A lot of farm kids grow up playing high school sports and doing chores on the farm. Athletics and farming are a natural fit, and we’re proud to support Minnesota’s high school athletes through this new partnership.”

The first of seven Prep Bowl championship football games kick off at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 21, and continue through Nov. 22. MCGA commercials will air during each game. Signage and announcer reads will give corn farmers a presence inside TCF Bank Stadium for each contest.

Corn farming-themed television commercials will also air during the state boys and girls basketball tournaments and boys and girls hockey tournaments in February and March. The MCGA logo will be prominently displayed on the boards of the Xcel Energy Center during the internationally known Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament.

Finally, MCGA and corn farming in Minnesota will be promoted during web coverage of each state tournament at www.Prep45.com.

Last year’s Prep Bowl, boys and girls hockey tournaments and boys and girls basketball tournaments were viewed by over 2 million people on Channel 45, at Prep45.com or in-person.

Free Prep Bowl tickets
Want to get into this week’s Prep Bowl at TCF Bank Stadium for free? MCGA has a four-pack of tickets for the Friday and Saturday games. For a chance to win, email aczech@mncorn.org. Good luck! (Winner must pick up the tickets at our office in Shakopee.)

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CommonGround connects farming and non-farming women

written by Jonathan Eisenthal

This is part one of a two-part series highlighting CommonGround, a program supported by Minnesota’s corn and soybean farmers. Look for part two on Wednesday.

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As the snow arrived this week, cattle rancher Rachel Gray got busy making sure her herd was “tucked in.”

“We just started getting snow last night,” Gray said Sunday evening from her home near Blackduck, in Beltrami County. “We spent the day today checking waters, making sure that heat lamps are good, putting bedding out for our claves and making sure wind breaks were up.”

Rachel’s herd — currently 65 heifers and their calves, each a sturdy mix of Black Angus and Simmental, with a dash of Hereford ‘baldies’ thrown in — winters outside. With three huge round straw bales chopped up, the mothers and their offspring happily ‘burrow’ deep into the straw — the way herds of cattle have lived for generations.

Gray’s family history on this patch of ground north of Blackduck goes back to 1935, when her great grandfather settled here and started a dairy, and raised sheep. In 1970, he and his son named the farm Timber’s Edge. In 2001, they sold the dairy herd and converted the operation to raising beef cattle. Rachel named her business Little Timber, in homage to the family history.

Feeding the Girls

Rachel gray feeds her cattle on her cattle ranch in Blackduck, Minn.

In addition to caring for her cattle, Gray is also one of 18 farm women in Minnesota who volunteer with a program called CommonGround. CommonGround volunteers connect with other women, answer questions about food and farming, share what they do on their own farms and talk about some of the science and research behind it.

“CommonGround focuses on woman-to-woman or mom-to-mom conversations, because women are usually making a lot of the food decisions at home,” said Meghan Doyle, state coordinator for CommonGround Minnesota. “Mom’s want to know they’re feeding their kids safe and nutritious food, but sorting through all the food and farming information that’s out there can be overwhelming. That’s where CommonGround comes in. Talking directly to a farmer is a great way to learn more from the individuals who are actually out there growing and raising food every day.”

Gray has got plenty to do on the on the family farm, so why does she volunteer with CommonGround?

“As a former teacher, I always feel the urge to educate,” Gray admits. “So many of the people buying beef from us had questions and a lot of people were confused by some of the terms and labels they saw at the store. I found myself making a sale, talking with someone and really going through how we raise our cattle and what we do. I could talk about farming all day long, so for me CommonGround is a dream come true.”  

Minnesota’s is one of the largest CommonGround state programs and more than 130 farm women volunteers are involved in the program nationwide. Of course, in Minnesota, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Starting from Gray’s ranch, which is about thirty miles northeast of Bemidji, you can travel nearly 300 miles south to the Swenson farm near Trimont, MN, right by the Iowa border. Kristie Swenson, a corn and soybean farmer and one of the first women to join CommonGround Minnesota, carries a vivid memory from childhood that motivates her to talk to consumers about food and farming.

“When I was in sixth grade I had a friend from school sleep over. Our family had some beef cattle at that time, and my friend said to me, ‘So those are cows, right?’ I was stunned that she had grown up in this small, rural agricultural town, but she didn’t have a sense of even the basics of agriculture,” Swenson said. “That opened my eyes to how many people are disconnected from agriculture. Ever since sixth grade, ag literacy has been a passion of mine. When I found out about CommonGround, I was so excited get involved and to have an opportunity to reach out to a much broader audience.”

Swenson grew up on the farm with her parents and two older brothers. Later, she attended the University of Minnesota and studied agricultural education with an emphasis on leadership training and development.

“I worked in the Twin Cities for a few years after college and then I got married and moved back home. Luckily, the guy I married wanted to be involved farming too.” Swenson said. “He had grown up on a dairy farm and agriculture was one of our common threads. Now my husband and I live on the farm and he works there full time with my parents. 

With two sons, a three-year-old and a newborn, as well as a full time job off the farm, Swenson is not swimming in free time. But she makes time to talk, mom-to-mom, about food and farming because she believes it’s an important extension of her passion for ag outreach and her own desire to put healthy, safe food on the table for her own family.

“I can honestly say that as a mom my perspective has changed,” Swenson said. “Even I get caught up in some of those articles that say, ‘oh, this was found in your food…be careful.’ Then I say to myself, ’hey, wait a minute, what’s the truth here? I’m a farmer and I know other farmers. Is there really some truth to this article? Or is this just somebody trying to blow an issue out of proportion? I understand what moms are going through, what their concerns are, because I’m a mom and I have those same concerns too.”

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If you would like to learn more about CommonGround visit FindOurCommonGround.com. Check back Wednesday for part two.

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Biofuels Mobile Education Center rolls to a successful 2014

Minnesota’s corn farmers rely on key partnerships and biofuels supporters from across a broad spectrum of industries to help connect with consumers and policymakers about ethanol.

The Biofuels Mobile Education Center

Perhaps the most impressive method of ethanol message delivery is through the Biofuels Mobile Education Center (BMEC), a 45-foot long trailer packed with interactive information about homegrown biofuels and staffed by a dedicated team that rolls across the country talking ethanol with consumers, drivers, students and anybody who stops by..

It was another busy and successful year for the BMEC in 2014. Here are some details:

  • The BMEC started its year on Feb. 11 at the World Ag Expo in Tulare, Calif. and didn’t stop rolling until its appearance at the AAA Texas 500 in Ft. Worth, Texas, on Nov. 11. Total time on the road: 98 days.
  • There were 51 events in 14 states where the BMEC made an appearance. It was a wide geographic area, too. The BMEC hit everywhere from out west in California to down south in Texas, north to Minnesota and east to Delaware and Virginia.
  • One of the focus areas was connecting with the next generation of drivers and consumers. Over 2,500 students and teachers went through the trailer at college campuses, high schools and ag classes throughout the Midwest.
  • The BMEC doesn’t drive itself across the country. A team of five dedicated, friendly and engaging drivers/educators make the information contained inside come to life by answering all questions with a genuine smile and valuable insight.
  • Oh, they also handed out over 30,000 can koozies at 12 NASCAR sponsored events. How can you not stop and chat for a few minutes when someone gives you an ethanol-themed can koozie?
  • Well over 100,000 people visited the BMEC in 2014. That’s a lot of conversations about ethanol, a lot of myths debunked and a lot of questions answered.

From Minnesota’s corn farmers to the dedicated team of the BMEC: Thank you! We look forward to a continued partnership and having you out to several more events in Minnesota in 2015.

A view inside the Biofuels Mobile Education Center

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Fuels expert conducts Ethanol 101 seminar for automotive classes

Ethanol 101

Ethanol 101 is part of Hoon Ge’s fuels seminars at technical colleges throughout Minnesota.

One way to increase awareness and knowledge of ethanol is to connect with the next generation of mechanics, the men and women who will be working on our cars and answering our fuel and engine questions for the next 40 years or more.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) is doing just that. With support from Minnesota’s corn farmers, Hoon Ge of MEG Corp, a leading fuel consulting company, travels throughout the state and conducts fuels seminars for automotive classes at many of Minnesota’s technical colleges.

Ge is a chemical engineer with over 25 years of experience in the petroleum, refining and alternative fuels industry. In addition to Ethanol 101, Ge’s fuels seminar covers everything from the history of gasoline in America to the blending process.

Since ethanol has so many myths surrounding it, Ge focuses a significant portion of his seminar dispelling those myths and answering students’ questions about ethanol.

“These are younger, up and coming mechanics,” Ge said. “Their minds are open and they want to learn. Unfortunately, too many older mechanics have already made up their mind that ethanol is bad.”

At St. Cloud Technical & Community College (SCTCC) on Nov. 12, Ge spoke to an automotive class of about 25 students.The first ethanol-related question was from a student who wondered about fuel economy with ethanol.

Ge said there is no loss in fuel economy with E10 and minimal, if any, with E15. Ge also informed the class that the loss of fuel economy in blends like E85 are often more than offset by the price savings at the pump. The fuel economy with higher ethanol blends could also be improved if engines were better targeted and tuned to run on the fuel, Ge said.

Another student asked about ethanol being corrosive.

“Corrosiveness has nothing to do with ethanol itself,” Ge answered. “It has more to do with how the fuel is handled and water being in the tank.”

Ge also went over the benefits of ethanol, which include reducing our dependence on foreign oil, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, using a homegrown, local fuel and getting an octane boost. He also talked about the food vs. fuel myth, and highlighted that for every 56-pound bushel of corn used to make ethanol, we get about 18 pounds of high protein livestock feed as a by-product.

The seminar at SCTCC was the sixth of seven seminars Ge had scheduled at colleges this fall and winter. He’s also led biofuels seminars at a workshop with the Minnesota Trade and Technical Industrial Association and at the Eco Experience Exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair.

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A year later, the dumpster fire still burns

Associated Press Dumpster Fire

A 2013 Associated Press story on ethanol was called a dumpster fire. One year later, the fire is still smoldering among farmers and homegrown biofuels supporters.

Written by Chad Willis

Exactly one year ago today the Associated Press (AP) published a national story that attacked ethanol and corn farmers. It contained the same myths and tired talking points used forever by the oil industry and anti-ag activists, only this time they were packaged together and disguised as “journalism.”

I actually checked this blog after I read the AP story to see if there was a Minnesota Corn Growers Association response. Sure enough, there was. They called the story a “dumpster fire.” There was even a picture of a dumpster, on fire. I thought it summarized the AP article perfectly.

The initial response to the story from farmers and homegrown biofuels supporters was commendable. However, the story was so bad, I wanted to make sure it remained on peoples’ radars, a year after it was published, as a reminder about why it’s so important for farmers and homegrown biofuels supporters to make their voices heard. That’s why I’m writing this today.

It’s easy to get angry when someone unfairly attacks something. After I read the AP ethanol article, I vented to family members and maybe even let loose with a few choice swear words. It’s also all-too-common to forget about whatever it was you were mad about, which in many cases is a good thing. However, my anger lingered regarding this AP ethanol story. I didn’t want it to be just another poorly reported story that got several facts wrong and the only consequence was people shrugging their shoulders and forgetting about it after the first wave of pushback.

The story claimed that corn prices were about $7 per bushel for most of 2013. Anybody with a computer and the ability to conduct a Google search knew that was false. On the day the story was published, corn futures traded at $4.26 per bushel, the lowest since 2010. In case you’re wondering if ethanol helped push those prices back up over the last year like the story would have you believe, it hasn’t. Corn dipped under $3 per bushel in many areas. In areas north of my farm, it fell below $2 per bushel despite the fact that we’re producing more corn-based ethanol than ever before.

The AP reporters got another easy-to-find fact completely wrong when they claimed more corn has been used since 2010 to make ethanol instead of livestock feed. When a 56-pound bushel of corn is used to make ethanol, we get 2.8 gallons of fuel and 18 pounds of high-protein livestock feed co-products. In other words, we get food and fuel from corn, not one or the other. Apparently this fact didn’t fit the reporters’ pre-determined “ethanol is bad” narrative so it was omitted from the story.

Many of the story’s claims about farmers plowing up “virgin lands” to plant more corn and filling in wetlands were also way off-base.

I could keep citing factual errors from the story, but that was already done in-depth before the story was even published, and continued after it hit newspapers and the web.

I’m still mad about the story and it’s ok if you are too. Since its publication, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed slashing the amount of ethanol blended in our gasoline supply, the price of corn has plummeted and food prices have increased.

If we just shrug our shoulders at every agenda-driven attack on ethanol and grumble (or swear) to ourselves, the landscape for homegrown biofuels and corn farming is only going to worsen. That’s why farmers were right to push back when the AP ethanol story was originally published and it’s why I’m writing this piece today. By re-visiting the story and citing a few of its many inaccuracies and click-baiting claims, hopefully it reminds us all why it’s important to not let dumbed-down “journalism” influence the national dialogue on renewable energy.

Hopefully it also reminds us that our jobs as farmers involve more than planting and harvesting. We need to make sure our voices are heard and push back when entities like the AP sneak up from behind and give us a hard shove.

If reading this makes you mad all over again about AP’s hatchet job on ethanol, good! The ethanol economy was built from the ground up by individuals — mostly farmers – who had a vision for starting something that would contribute to cleaner air, add value to their crop and boost the rural economy. We were successful. And with success comes critics who want to tear down what you’ve helped build.

It took personal involvement and a strong voice at the local level to get where we are today with ethanol. If we want to preserve what we’ve already built, we need to get back to that same level of personal involvement. Our voices need to be even stronger than when we were building this thing, especially when attacks like the AP ethanol article are launched.

Corn farmers are a key component of America’s food and energy future. Let’s make sure the people we interact with on a daily basis know our story and get the facts about ethanol. Because if we don’t tell our own story, organizations like the AP will.

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Chad Willis is a corn and soybean farmer in Willmar, Minn. 

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