About Cindy Zimmerman

Cindy has been reporting about agricultural topics since 1980 when she graduated with a degree in broadcasting from the University of Florida. She is an emeritus member of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters and 1991 Oscar in Agriculture winner. She and her husband Chuck started ZimmComm New Media in 2003. They have three beautiful daughters and live near white sand beaches of Pensacola, Florida.

DDGS Exports to China Returning to Normal

Exports of U.S. distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) are starting to return to normal levels, according to the latest numbers for March.

Patriot Renewable Fuels DDGsThe Renewable Fuels Association reports that exports of the animal feed ethanol co-product rose in March for the fourth consecutive month, at 923,515 metric tons (mt), up 15% from February, with half of those shipments going to China. Exports of DDGS to China have been increasing this year after falling off last year due to a biotech trait issue. If normal shipments to China resume on an ongoing basis, 2015 theoretically could see total exports reach the 11 million mt mark. Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, and Thailand account for most of the remaining global market.

U.S. exports of ethanol in March were down slightly from February at 83.8 million gallons (mg), but that still represents the third-highest monthly volume in the last 12 months. Brazil and Canada accounted for half of total U.S. ethanol exports in March, followed by Oman and South Korea. The Netherlands, Tunisia and Nigeria were other key destinations in March.

Biofuels Leaders Ask President for Meeting

A dozen organizations and companies representing biofuels interests this week sent a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting on proposed rules under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) due to come out next month.

fuels-americaThe letter comes on the heels of an analysis from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) showing how EPA delays in setting volume requirements (RVOs) under the RFS have resulted in the loss of some $13.7 billion in investment in advanced biofuels like cellulosic ethanol. The letter was signed by BIO, the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy, Advanced Ethanol Coalition, National Corn Growers Association, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, POET, DSM, Novozymes, and Abengoa.

“The EPA’s proposal in 2013 was an enormous disservice to you and your legacy, Mr. President,” the letter states. “Prior to the release of that proposal, we had asked to meet with the EPA, but were rebuffed. We would like to work with you to ensure that the mistake is not repeated.”

In addition to the letter and the analysis from BIO, the Fuels America coalition is running digital ads this week on Politico’s Environment & Energy section that say, “Will the next generation of biofuels be created in the United States or China? It’s up to you, Mr. President. Support the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

RFS Uncertainty Chills Advanced Biofuel Funding

biologoA new analysis from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) finds delays in rulemaking for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) have chilled necessary investment in advanced and cellulosic biofuels.

According to the analysis, the industry has experienced an estimated $13.7 billion shortfall in investment over the past two years as the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed setting volume obligations for biofuels under the RFS.

(EPA) was nine months late issuing the 2013 RVOs and is more than 17 months late in issuing the 2014 rule. Further, the agency has made cellulosic biofuel producers wait an average of 29 months (more than two years) for approval of production pathways. Currently, 29 companies have unresolved petitions filed with EPA and they have been waiting on average more than 32 months for resolution. A majority of an estimated $13.7 billion shortfall in investment for cellulosic and new advanced technologies should therefore be attributed to EPA’s delays in issuing timely rules.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of BIO’s Industrial & Environmental Section, notes that the situation came about just as plants were beginning to reach the commercial stage. “The chill in investment has had the heaviest impact on cellulosic biofuel developers,” said Erickson. “The delays in rulemaking have also undercut the industry’s ability to create new employment opportunities, resulting in the loss of more than 80,000 direct jobs.”

According to BIO, the industry has invested more than $5 billion in first-of-a-kind demonstration and commercial-scale biorefineries around the world. The analysis finds that as of April 2015, there are five commercial cellulosic biorefineries with a combined capacity of more than 50 million gallons within the United States and registered to meet the goals of the RFS, along with several pilot and demonstration plants. Additional commercial biorefineries are under construction.

DOT Announces New Rail Car Standards

rfa-railcarU.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today announced a final rule for the safe transportation of flammable liquids by rail.

The final rule, developed in coordination with Canada, focuses on “safety improvements that are designed to prevent accidents, mitigate consequences in the event of an accident, and support emergency response.”

“Safety has been our top priority at every step in the process for finalizing this rule, which is a significant improvement over the current regulations and requirements and will make transporting flammable liquids safer,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, believes the new rule strikes “a fair balance in setting comprehensive standards while at the same time being sensitive to the limitation of retrofit capacity by giving less hazardous flammables — like ethanol — additional time to retrofit railcars.”

“We applaud the Department of Transportation for working to harmonize these regulations with Canada; for adopting a risk-based approach that prioritizes the most dangerous and highly-volatile flammables like crude oil while giving medium hazard liquids like ethanol additional time to come into compliance, for recognizing the limitations of the retrofit capacity, and, for establishing a regular reporting process for the retrofit schedule,” added Dinneen.

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, however, expressed disappointment with the new rule. “Although we are pleased that this rule begins to acknowledge the difference between cars in ethanol and crude service, we are extremely disappointed that regulators are requiring extensive changes to the ethanol rail fleet, while seemingly ignoring the number one cause of these accidents – broken rails and poor track condition,” said Buis.

The new rule requires a phase out or retrofit of all DOT-111 railcars transporting crude oil and ethanol by May 2023. Specifically, the rule requires a phase out or retrofit of all unjacketed CPC-1232 railcars used to ship ethanol by July 2023. Additionally, a new tank car standard has been put in place that establishes the DOT-117 as the new railcar to ship oil and ethanol. The DOT-117 includes a 9/16 inch steel hull, roll over protection, full height head shields, top fitting protection, and jacketing with thermal protection.

U.S. Ethanol Exports Rebound in 2014

usda-fasUSDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service reports that exports of U.S. ethanol exports rebounded last year after two years of declines. It was the second highest level of ethanol exports in history, making the United States the largest exporter of ethanol in the world, surpassing Brazil for the second time.

Value and volume of ethanol exports were both up approximately 35 percent from 2013, although still below the record set in 2011. At nearly 3.2 billion liters (836 million gallons), U.S. ethanol exports were worth more than $2 billion dollars. Six percent of ethanol produced in the United States was exported last year, shipped to a more diverse range of markets. Exports to Canada accounted for 40% of the total and while exports to Brazil and Europe dropped, dramatic increases were seen in markets such as the Philippines, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates.

On the other side, U.S. ethanol imports (including both fuel and non-fuel ethanol) dropped by more than half in 2014, to less than 900 million liters, the lowest level since 2010. At the same time, domestic ethanol production jumped nearly eight percent in 2014, reaching a record 54 billion liters (14.3 billion gallons).

Read the entire FAS report here.

NBB Talks Biodiesel Issues with NAFB

ww15-nbbThe National Biodiesel Board (NBB) took part in the annual National Association of Farm Broadcasting Washington Watch this week to talk with reporters from around the country about issues important to the industry, number one being get the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) back on track.

“We hope that they not only get it back on track but get those volumes out there, they need to be higher,” said NBB Vice President of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel, speaking about EPA’s plan to release overdue volume obligations under the law by June. “EPA has said they want 2014 volumes to be actual production, so for our industry that would be about 1.75 billion gallons.”

Steckel says they hope EPA will add several hundred million gallons to that each year going forward to support industry growth.

In this interview with Agri-Pulse reporter Spencer Chase, Steckel also talks about the status of the biodiesel tax incentive. Interview with Anne Steckel, NBB

Ethanol Report from NAFB Washington Watch

ww15-dinneen-kenMembers of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting were on Capitol Hill this week for their annual Washington Watch, and the Renewable Fuels Association was once again pleased to participate. RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen was interviewed by dozens of broadcasters from around the country addressing a number of different topics.

ethanol-report-adIn this edition of the Ethanol Report, Sabrina Hill of AgNet West in California talks with Bob about several issues, including the California Air Resources Board Low Carbon Fuel Standard, E15 legislation, and why RFA supports farm broadcasters.

Ethanol Report from NAFB Washington Watch

RFA CEO Talks RFS with NAFB

ww15-rfaMembers of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) are on Capitol Hill this week talking with lawmakers, administration officials, and industry organizations about topics important to agriculture, which include the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen had some new information to share with broadcasters about support for the RFS among the general public. “We released a poll (Monday) that shows 62% of voters support the RFS, compared to only 18% that oppose it,” said Dinneen in an interview with Agri-Pulse reporter Spencer Chase. “I hope both EPA and the president and Congress are paying attention to what Joe Public wants.”

In this interview, Dinneen also discusses the proposed EPA timeline for releasing overdue volume requirements for the RFS. “Typically EPA doesn’t act until they absolutely have to so my expectation is that the clock will run until the very last second,” he said. Interview with Bob Dinneen, RFA CEO

American Ethanol Finishes 5 Years with NASCAR

am-ethanol-carOver the weekend at Richmond International Raceway, American Ethanol and NASCAR officially celebrated five years and seven million miles of running on 15% ethanol blended Sunoco Green E15, unveiling a new paint scheme with E15 prominently located on the hood of Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet SS.

Dillon, who has been advocating the benefits of ethanol for three years now, drove his first American Ethanol paint of the 2015 racing season in the Saturday Toyota Owners 400 race, which was delayed by rain until Sunday. While he finished 27th in the race, ethanol still came in first.

“This has been a tremendous partnership,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. “Since NASCAR switched to Sunoco Green E15 five years ago, we have seen a very a substantial change in the national dialogue regarding ethanol – when people see NASCAR rely on ethanol week after week in all three of its national racing series, they understand that it is a fuel that they can rely on as well.”

American Ethanol driver Austin Dillon, National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, RCR Racing owner Richard Childress

American Ethanol driver Austin Dillon, National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, RCR Racing owner Richard Childress

During a press conference on Saturday, National Corn Growers Association President Chip Bowling talked about what the American Ethanol partnership has meant for American farmers. “E15 American Ethanol turns our unrivaled ability to produce corn into a national asset. Consumer demand for ethanol is good for family farmers and fans appreciate that,” said Bowling. “We have grown the 12 largest corn crops in history in the last 12 years so ethanol demand is critical. It means farmers can pay their bills, reinvest in the broader economy and keep family operations like mine viable for future generations.”

Bowling added that according to a 2014 study, NASCAR fans are over 75 percent more likely than non-fans to support the use of ethanol blended with gasoline to fuel their own car.

USDA Presents Climate Change Initiative

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and presidential advisor Brian Deese visited Michigan State University Thursday to announce a comprehensive national strategy to partner with farmers, ranchers and forest land owners to address the threat of climate change. The new initiative, “Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture & Forestry”, will utilize voluntary, incentive-based conservation, forestry, and energy programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon sequestration and expand renewable energy production in the agricultural and forestry sectors.

climate-vilsack“American farmers and ranchers are leaders when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and improving efficiency in their operations. That’s why U.S. agricultural emissions are lower than the global average,” said Vilsack. “Through incentive-based initiatives, we can partner with producers to significantly reduce carbon emissions while improving yields, increasing farm operation’s energy efficiency, and helping farmers and ranchers earn revenue from clean energy production.”

Vilsack outlined details of the ten USDA Building Blocks for Climate Action, which includes promoting renewable energy technologies and improving energy efficiency. “We’ve incentivized the shift from fossil-based energy to renewable sources of energy in rural communities,” said Vilsack. “According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, 57,299 farms reported using a renewable energy producing system in 2012. That’s more than double the 23,451 operations that reported the same in 2007.”

The Secretary also talked about the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) and the funding of anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce electricity from captured methane.

Vilsack announcement on climate change initiative

E15 Bill Introduced in the House

A bipartisan bill was introduced in the U.S. House yesterday as a companion to the Fuel Choice and Deregulation Act of 2015 in the Senate.

rod-blumCongressman Rod Blum (R-IA), along with Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO), Congressman Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Congressman David Young (R-IA) are co-sponsoring the House legislation, which removes the burdensome restrictions placed on the ethanol marketplace by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), further encourages manufacturers and producers to develop new technologies, and equalizes the tax between liquid natural gas (LNG) and diesel fuel.

“It is time for the EPA to stop denying American consumers access to new fuels in the marketplace,” said Rep. Blum. “This bill from Senators Paul and Grassley reduces unnecessary red tape while promoting competition, innovation, and fairness in the energy marketplace, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to move this measure forward.”

The bill requires EPA to correct the disparity regarding Reid Vapor Pressure, which measures the evaporation rate of gasoline, in ethanol blends. E10 blends have a waiver allowing year-round sales throughout the country, but EPA has refused to grant E15 the same waiver meaning E15 can only be sold from June 1 to September 15 in the majority of the country. If the bill passes, more retailers would be expected to offer E15.

“Consumers should have year-round access to higher ethanol blends,” said National Corn Growers Association president Chip Bowling. “This is the single largest regulatory hurdle standing in the way. We urge both the House and the Senate to step up, remove this hurdle, and expand consumer choice.”

Vilsack Flips Switch on New Solar Farm

vilsack-switchOn Earth Day, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack flipped the switch to symbolically activate USDA’s first solar array project in the National Capital Region.

The 1.6 Megawatt (MW) solar farm, located at the George Washington Carver Center (Carver Center) in Beltsville, Maryland, is the largest solar array on federal property in this region. This project, which is part of a larger commitment to transform the facility into a model for sustainability, will help meet the President’s Capital Solar Challenge. The new solar farm is expected to provide about 2,000 megawatt hours (MWh), or 20% of the Carver Center facility annual electrical power requirements, and handle most of GWCC’s electrical needs during the day.

usda-solar“Today, USDA is another step closer to achieving its goal of energy independence. With this system, USDA is saving taxpayers over $300,000 annually in avoided energy costs,” said Vilsack. “As a Federal agency, USDA is leading the way in renewable energy in the National Capital Region. And we are proud to say that this 6.2 acre solar farm is the largest solar array on Federal property in this area.”

There are over 5,000 state-of-the-art, industry-leading American made panels in this farm and it was built on what used to be Agriculture Research Service farmland, land that is now farming energy. The Carver Center consists of four interconnected buildings and grounds, which occupy about 45 acres of Federal land. The farm helps position USDA to meet President Obama’s new Executive Order goal to increase the share of electricity the Federal Government consumes from renewable sources to 30 percent.

Farmers Live #EarthDay Every Day

earth-day-2015This year marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day but farmers have been living the spirit of stewardship for natural resources for generations and have been leaders in the generation of renewable energy sources like biofuels, wind and solar.

“For hundreds of years, America’s farmers have been working our land and providing the country and the world with high quality food, feed, fiber and fuel,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Today, on Earth Day, we are proud that our industry will keep getting cleaner, keep farming more efficiently and keep discovering new ways to fuel America with biomass and waste products that represent a smarter, cleaner, homegrown alternative to foreign oil.”

Corn Growers Urge EPA to Keep RFS Timeline

ncga-logo-newCorn growers are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to keep its agreement on a court-enforced timeline for establishing the Renewable Volume Obligation numbers for 2014 and 2015 for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“Congress created the Renewable Fuel Standard to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and to provide cleaner domestic fuel choices for consumers and the EPA has finally provided additional clarity about their timeline for announcing the 2014 through 2016 renewable fuel requirements,” said National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Chip Bowling. “We have expressed our concerns about the continued delays to the EPA, and we will be taking them at their word that they will adhere to this new deadline.”

Under the consent decree and other commitments, the EPA will propose volume requirements by June 1 for 2015 and 2016 and will re-propose volume requirements for 2014 that reflect the volumes of renewable fuel that were actually used in 2014. By November 30, EPA will finalize volume requirements for 2014, 2015 and 2016, and resolve a pending waiver petition for 2014.

According to NCGA, if the RVO reduction took place as proposed by the EPA in November 2013, the price of corn was estimated to fall by as much as an additional $1.10. “With corn stocks high and prices low well into 2015’s planting season, NCGA and its growers will continue to track progress on these deadlines and hold EPA accountable,” said Bowling.

DOT Issues Energy Transportation Actions

dotThe U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), together with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), has announced a package of targeted actions to address some of the issues identified in recent train accidents involving crude oil and ethanol shipped by rail.

The volume of crude oil being shipped by rail has increased exponentially in recent years, and the number of significant accidents involving trains carrying ethanol or crude oil is unprecedented. “The boom in crude oil production, and transportation of that crude, poses a serious threat to public safety,” stated U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The measures we are announcing today are a result of lessons learned from recent accidents and are steps we are able to take today to improve safety. Our efforts in partnership with agencies throughout this Administration show that this is more than a transportation issue, and we are not done yet.”

The announcement includes one Emergency Order, two Safety Advisories, and notices to industry intended to further enhance the safe shipment of Class 3 flammable liquids.