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.

2012 Ag Census Includes Renewable Energy

2012-censusThe 2012 Census of Agriculture shows a doubling of on-farm renewable energy production since 2007.

According to the census data released by USDA today, there were 57,299 farms that produced on-farm renewable energy in 2012, more than double the 23,451 in 2007. By far the biggest was solar panels, used on over 36,000 farms. Geoexchange systems and wind turbines each were used on more than 9,000 farms.

For renewable fuels, biodiesel was produced on 4,099 farms and ethanol on 2,397. Small hydro systems were used on about 1300 farms and methane digesters on 537.

The census reveals there are now 3.28 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland across the United States. Those numbers are all lower than 2007 when the census reported 3.18 million farmers, 2.2 million farms and 922 million acres. The top 5 states for agricultural sales were California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion). Corn and soybean acres topped 50 percent of all harvested acres for the first time.

Census data is available from USDA online and a recording of the webcast release of the census data is here: USDA Releases 2012 Census Data

RFA Challenges Oil Industry Letter to EPA

RFA-logo-13The CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) today sent a letter to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency challenging claims by the oil industry regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

In a letter sent to EPA earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) requested that EPA use October 2013 fuel consumption projections—instead of the most current projections—when setting the final 2014 RFS renewable volume obligations (RVOs). RFA president and CEO Bob Dinneen called the suggestion that outdated fuel consumption projections should be used to establish the RVOs “the highest form of hypocrisy and misdirection.”

“Common sense and the principles of good rulemaking dictate that the final RVOs should be based on the latest available fuel consumption projections from EIA,” wrote Dinneen in the letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Since the inception of the RFS2, EPA has always relied on the most recent EIA projections to set annual RVOs. API has never objected to this—until now.” Dinneen adds that API has repeatedly requested that EPA base its cellulosic biofuel RVO on the most current available production data.

Dinneen said API also misconstrues the fact that the RFS is fundamentally a volumetric standard, not a percentage-based requirement. “In the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Congress set forth the specific volumes of renewable fuels that must be consumed annually. From these statutorily required volumes, as well as projected levels of gasoline and diesel consumption, EPA derives its annual percentage RVOs,” wrote Dinneen. “API obviously has the RVO-setting process backward, requesting that EPA start with an arbitrary renewable volume percentage and work in reverse to establish the commensurate volumetric requirements.”

Read more here.

REPREVE Launches Biomass Crop System

A North Carolina-based biomass company has launched a brand new system for the production of high-yielding energy crops that can be used for biofuels and other bio-based products.

repreveREPREVE® RENEWABLES LLC is collaborating with farmers and landowners across the country to use the innovative biomass crop system grow giant miscanthus grass on marginal and underutilized land.

REPREVE developed a comprehensive solution to the challenge of planting rhizome-propagated crops like miscanthus on a commercial scale, according to Jeff Wheeler, chief executive officer. “We’re really excited to be launching this year our new ACCU YIELD™ system,” said Wheeler, explaining that they had to develop specialized equipment to extract and process the rhizomes for planting, and then develop a precision planter to accurately and efficiently plant the crop for the highest yields.

ACCUDROP planter in fieldThe system is comprised of three elements: the ACCU LIFTER™ machine lifts rhizomes from a field in such a manner that reduces damage to the rhizomes thus increasing viability; the ACCU PROCESSOR™ unit sizes and cleans rhizomes for improved germination and quality and the ACCU DROP® planter provides optimal row spacing at varying planting densities to ensure a uniform, consistent and rapid stand establishment.

Farmers and landowners in Iowa, Georgia, North Carolina and Wisconsin are among the first to adopt this inventive approach to diversified land management. “These early adopters of commercial-scale biomass are trailblazers,” Wheeler says. “We provide turnkey solutions to farmers and landowners whereby we plant and harvest the crop. Plus we provide the market for the harvested crop each year.”

The crop is marketed to end users for a variety of renewable products, from biofuel to animal bedding. “Biofuels is one of the markets that we are working to develop,” said Wheeler, who says they have projects ongoing with companies in the advanced cellulosic biofuels arena. “There’s been such great progress made in those technologies and they hold such great promise for energy independence … but the biggest thing the industry needs is consistent and stable policy from Washington.”

Learn more in this interview with Wheeler: Interview with Jeff Wheeler, REPREVE Renewables

EPA and USDA Dispute Corn Stover Study

Two federal agencies joined the biofuels industry last week in seriously questioning the results of a University of Nebraska study that claims negative greenhouse gas emissions impacts in using corn stover for ethanol production.

corn_stover03 Photo: USDOE-NRELA statement by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Liz Purchia about the report noted problems with “hypothetical assumption that 100 percent of corn stover in a field is harvested” which she calls “an extremely unlikely scenario that is inconsistent with recommended agricultural practices. As such, it does not provide useful information relevant to the lifecycle GHG emissions from corn stover ethanol. EPA’s lifecycle analysis assumes up to 50 percent corn stover harvest. EPA selected this assumption based on data in the literature and in consultation with agronomy experts at USDA to reflect current agricultural practices.”

During a forum on climate change right after the study hit the headlines last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also pointed out that it is based on a false premise. “The study started with an assumption about the way corn stover would be removed from the land. The problem with the assumption is no farmer in the country would actually take that much crop residue,” Vilsack said. “It’s not what’s happening on the ground. If you make the wrong assumption, you’re going to come up with the wrong conclusions.”

Work done by Dr. Douglas Karlen with the USDA Agricultural Research Service was cited several times in the UNL study. In response to questions from POET-DSM, which is using corn stover as feedstock at a plant in Iowa, Karlen said the study “makes unrealistic assumptions and uses citations out of context to reinforce the authors’ viewpoint.”

According to Dr. Karlen, the research fails to differentiate between responsible biomass removal and “excessive” biomass removal, projecting a removal rate of approximately 75% across the entire Corn Belt.

“Harvesting 75% of all corn stover produced in the 10 Corn Belt states is unrealistic, far greater than any projections made by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in their projections for developing a sustainable bioenergy industry, and would certainly result in the depletion of soil organic matter.”

NTSB Holds Rail Transportation Safety Forum

ntsbOutgoing National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman says “regulators are behind the curve” when it comes to the transport of hazardous liquid, whether ethanol or crude oil.

“Those shipments have increased by over 440 percent (since 2005) but our regulations have not changed,” Hersman said at the National Press Club prior to the start of a two day forum on Safety of Rail Transportation of Crude Oil and Ethanol. She says accidents are happening “far too often, safety has been compromised” in oil train shipments.

Some of the concern brought about by recent accidents involving both oil and ethanol shipments revolves around the rail tank cars themselves, particularly the DOT-111, which she says is not safe enough for hazardous liquids. “Carrying corn oil is fine, carrying crude oil is not,” said Hersman.

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen testified at the NTSB forum about the safety record of ethanol shipments via the DOT-111A railcar, the intense focus of the RFA on safety training and best practices within the ethanol industry, and the need for the NTSB to focus on the root cause of recent derailments, including track conditions and human error.

RFA-logo-13Noting that 70 percent of ethanol travels to the marketplace via rail and has done so for over 30 years, Dinneen gave credit to the railroads that since 2012 have successfully shipped 99.997 percent of hazardous material carloads. “From 2006–2013, the U.S. ethanol industry moved over two million shipments of ethanol,” Dinneen testified. “However, during that period only 226 cars derailed with only 91 releasing product.”

Dinneen further testified that in each of the ethanol derailment incidents that have occurred, the NTSB determined the derailment to be the result of rail operation, such as substandard track integrity, switching failures, inspection errors, maintenance problems or lack of communication between train crews. “Keeping the cars on the track by eliminating the root causes of these DOT-111A tank car derailments is the only way to achieve a perfect safety record,” said Dinneen.

Renewable Fuels Fuel Jobs and Economy

A new industry report released today shows how the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is creating jobs and significant economic impact.

fuels-americaThe Fuels America coalition released an economic impact study by John Dunham & Associates showing that the industry supports more than 850,000 American jobs and drives $184.5 billion of economic output.

Renewable fuels now represent nearly 10% of America’s fuel supply and have helped reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil to the lowest level in years. The analysis takes into account the entire supply chain for renewable fuels and quantifies the impact to the U.S. economy, including:

• Driving $184.5 billion of economic output
• Supporting 852,056 jobs and $46.2 billion in wages
• Generating $14.5 billion in tax revenue each year

The full analysis is publicly available on the Fuels America website, including localized reports for every state and every congressional district in the country.

Fuels America held a telephone press conference introducing the report results featuring comments from Jon Doggett, National Corn Growers Association public policy; Adam Monroe, Novozymes; Larry Ward, POET; and John Dunham, report author.

Listen to or download here: Fuels America new economic report

Forbes Flubs Ethanol Facts

forbes_logoA Forbes article by a contributing editor proclaiming that “corn ethanol is of no use” contained such blatant fact errors that the author had to change it.

“Thanks to … commenters for pointing out some errors, especially my failing to mention the tax credits and tariffs have expired,” wrote author James Conca after removing that reference from the story.

Not changed is the manipulation of corn usage data in the story to avoid comparing apples to apples.

In 2000, over 90% of the U.S. corn crop went to feed people and livestock, many in undeveloped countries, with less than 5% used to produce ethanol. In 2013, however, 40% went to produce ethanol, 45% was used to feed livestock, and only 15% was used for food and beverage (AgMRC).

What those simple statements do not say is that:
1. Production in 2000 was 9.968 billion bushels, 40% less than the record 13.9 billion bushel crop harvested last year.
2. The 90% in 2000 included exports.
3. In 2013, 36% of corn usage went to “ethanol and by-products” which includes the equivalent of about one third of that amount returned as distillers grains for livestock feed.
4. Adding in exports, the total usage in 2013 outside of ethanol and by-products is 63%. If you add in about a third of the ethanol number (8.4% according to the source cited by Conca), that would be over 75% going to livestock feed, food uses, seed and exports.

Conca claims he is not “pro-oil” in one of his comment responses about the facts in the article, yet he states as a fact a statement that is blatantly false. “The grain required to fill a 25-gallon gas tank with ethanol can feed one person for a year, so the amount of corn used to make that 13 billion gallons of ethanol will not feed the almost 500 million people it was feeding in 2000.” Only livestock eat the field corn that produces ethanol and while exports of U.S. corn have declined some in recent years, global production continues to increase.

In response to a very well written comment pointing out some of the facts omitted from the article, Conca writes that he “did not know that China was importing so much Distillers Grain, that’s wonderful and does change the economics. And thank you for pointing out the taxes and tariffs have expired.”

He adds that he thinks the United States needs to “proceed full-steam on all fronts, including biofuels, and that all technologies should be supported thoroughly.” Unfortunately, articles like these perpetuating misinformation and flat out falsehoods make it difficult for biofuels to compete against detractors.

Ethanol Groups Fight Back with “Oil Rigged”

fuels-americaA coalition of biofuels organizations is fighting back against the oil industry by launching a new campaign called “Oil Rigged.”

Members of Fuels America today unveiled the details of its new “Oil Rigged” television and digital ad campaign and OilRigged.com designed to “expose the many ways the oil industry is rigging the system to protect their profits and block the transition to clean, American renewable fuels.” The announcement included representatives of member organizations Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Growth Energy, and Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).

“They’ve rigged Washington,” said Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis, noting the oil industry has spent $855 million on lobbyists and campaign contributions over the past five years “more than a million dollars for every member of the House and Senate.” He added that the oil industry has also rigged the market “by refusing to invest in the infrastructure” to sell higher blends of ethanol, rigged the tax code and rigged the debate over renewable fuels.

oil-rigged“They are trying to rig the debate with misinformation, junk science and misleading ads all designed to scare consumers and Congress about ethanol to protect their market share,” said RFA president Bob Dinneen.

The group chose Earth Day for starting the campaign to make the point that biofuels are making a positive difference for the environment. “What we’re really talking about here is doing the right thing for the planet,” said Brent Erickson, BIO Executive Vice President. “Of everything the United States is doing from a policy standpoint to reduce carbon pollution, the Renewable Fuel Standard is making the biggest impact by far.”

Listen to all the comments from Buis, Dinneen and Erickson here: Fuels America Oil Rigged Campaign

Green Gadgets for Earth Day

What better way to celebrate Earth Day than with some new gadgets?

Got an email this morning from an industrious PR person touting a book called “Fool’s Return” by Lynda Chervil, “a thought leader and green technology advocate.”

Chervil, who studies the science behind green technology, says environmental awareness has ramped up production of affordable goods that can shrink individuals’ carbon footprints. She shares four devices she says would make a nice gift for Mother Earth on her day.

hybrid-lightAmong her suggestions is the HybridLight Solar Flashlight that never needs batteries, “can be charged from any light source, and they always work.”

There’s also the Bedol Water Alarm Clock. “Imagine a water-powered alarm clock that’s loud enough to scare you out of bed! Bedol’s water clocks run strictly on tap water – no batteries, no nothing else.” And the Pama Eco Navigator Satellite Navigation system that helps save gasoline by providing you with the most energy-efficient routes to your destinations, and feedback on your car’s performance.

Last but not least, the iGo Green Power Smart Wall that helps “cut the suck” of the power “vampires” that use electricity whether we’re using them or not – everything from coffee pots to laptops.

Go on – give your Mother Earth a hug today and get a green gadget!

Advanced Biofuels Group Questions Corn Stover Study

aeclogoA new study about the climate impact of using corn residue for biofuel production raises more questions than it answers, according to Brooke Coleman, Executive Director of the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC).

“In reality, the study confirms what we already know; that excessive agricultural residue removal is bad for the soil and has negative impacts on climate,” said Coleman in a statement, adding that the study uses corn stover removal rates far exceeding those used in the field. “The analysis also models a one-size-fits-all approach to managing soil carbon that, by definition, ignores how farmers manage their land.”

The study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln used a supercomputer model to estimate the effect of residue removal on 128 million acres across 12 Corn Belt states. Researchers reported that “removing crop residue from cornfields generates an additional 50 to 70 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule of biofuel energy produced.”

Total annual production emissions, averaged over five years, would equal about 100 grams of carbon dioxide per megajoule — which is 7 percent greater than gasoline emissions and 62 grams above the 60 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as required by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.

“Our industry is more than willing to engage in important discussions about the climate impacts of using agricultural residues to make fuel, but the headline-chasing strategy of trying to sell extreme modeling assumptions as the norm does not facilitate that process,” commented Coleman. “If you look at the full spectrum of peer-reviewed work, cellulosic biofuel is the lowest carbon fuel in the world.”

RFA-logo-13Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen believes the study is “fundamentally flawed and its conclusions are highly suspect. The results are based on sweeping generalizations, questionable assumptions, and an opaque methodology. The authors offer no robust explanation for why their findings contradict other recent, highly regarded research. Ultimately, this paper should be seen for what it truly is – a modeling exercise of a hypothetical scenario that bears no resemblance to the real world.”

Biofuel Groups Oppose RFS Delay Request

Leading biofuel industry groups are opposing a delay requested by petroleum industry in a 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard case.

Dont Mess with RFSThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and Growth Energy together filed a joint response yesterday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in opposition to the American Petroleum Institute’s and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers’ motion to “sever and hold in abeyance their challenge to the 2013 Renewable Fuel Standard” that was filed on Friday. The case is Monroe Energy, LLC v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, which was argued before the Court on April 7.

As the groups explained in their response to the motion, “Respondent-Intervenors Biotechnology Industry Organization, Growth Energy, and Renewable Fuels Association oppose the motion to sever API and AFPM’s petitions and place them in abeyance. The petitions have been fully briefed, responded to, and argued. No purpose is served by pulling API and AFPM’s petitions back a week after argument, to hold them indefinitely and consolidate them with hypothetical later-filed petitions.”

Central Texas Marks 20 Years of Alternative Fuels

lone-star-20The Lone Star Clean Fuels Alliance in Austin, Texas this week celebrated 20 years of being green, starting before being green was cool.

The LSCFA recognized the achievements of many leaders who helped Austin cut 10 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in one year alone, and attendees had the opportunity to drive renewable energy vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf and a stand-up electric police mobility vehicle.

The LSCFA, formerly known as Central Texas Clean Cities, is a non-profit coalition dedicated to reducing petroleum consumption through alternative fuels. Over the past 20 years the association has helped to clean up City of Austin fleet vehicles as well as other fleet and personal vehicles in five Central Texas counties counties. In 2012 alone, its stakeholders reduced petroleum consumption by 1.6 million gallons. Clean Cities helps to advance the alternative or renewable fuels of propane, biofuels: ethanol/E85 and biodiesel, natural gas, electric and hydrogen. It was the sixth Clean Cities coalition started in the U.S. where there are now about 90.

EIA Identifies States with the Windiest Energy

single wind turbine Photo Joanna SchroederTwelve states produced 80% of the total wind energy generated last year, according to preliminary data released from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in the March Electric Power Monthly report.

Number one on the list is Texas, which generated nearly 36 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2013. Iowa was second, with more than 15 million MWh, followed by California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Iowa ranked first in proportion of wind to total electricity generated with 27.4% of net electricity production coming from wind turbines.

These 12 states produced a combined 134 million MWh of electricity from wind. Nationwide, 167 million MWh of power came from wind in 2013, a 19% increase from 2012. Wind power increased its share of U.S. total electricity generation in 2013 from 3.5% to 4.1%. All but 13 states reported to EIA some generation from wind, and 23 states increased their wind generation more than 10% above 2012 production levels. California’s wind generation exceeded geothermal generation for the first time in 2013.

Farm Group Agrees with Climate Change Report

NFUlogoThe National Farmers Union (NFU) agrees with the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that renewable energy must play a significant role in climate change mitigation.

“The working group’s report complements NFU’s long-held, member-led policy positions by recognizing the need for a comprehensive renewable energy strategy,” said NFU vPresident Roger Johnson. “Tripling or even quadrupling the share of zero- and low-carbon energy supply from renewables, as the report recommends, will require significant investments in energy technologies that utilize rural America’s renewable and human resources. These investments would pay off not only by helping to mitigate the effects of climate change but by driving significant rural economic development.”

WGIII_AR5_Cover_webThe IPCC third working group report released this week finds that climate change is occurring at a rapid rate, but mitigation strategies such as scaling up renewable energy production could substantially reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to the report, total anthropogenic GHG emissions have continued to increase over 1970 to 2010 in spite of a growing number of climate change mitigation policies. Total anthropogenic GHG emissions were the highest in human history from 2000 to 2010. Without additional efforts to reduce GHG emissions beyond those in place today, emissions growth is expected to persist, driven by growth in global population and economic activities.

USDA Rural Development Supports Biofuel Investment

USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service Administrator Lillian Salerno went on a three-state Midwest tour last week to highlight USDA investments that are helping expand business opportunities in the bio-economy, including biofuels.

usda-salerno“Creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity for rural small businesses are top priorities for the Obama Administration,” said Salerno, who visited companies in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. “The new Farm Bill expands the potential for economic growth in rural America by maintaining momentum for the emerging bio-based industry and the more than 3,000 bio-based companies across the country.”

Salerno’s tour started with a visit to Quad County Corn Processors near Galva, Iowa where they are working on a process to turn corn kernel fibers into cellulosic ethanol and as a result boost the plant’s ethanol production. “It’s a co-op, so all the farmers around there have a vested interest in making this processing unit work,” she said. The company has received nearly $22 million in USDA Rural Development loan guarantees since it opened 13 years ago.

Salerno noted that the United States has the capacity to provide one billion tons of biomass per year by 2030. “This has a possibility of hundreds of thousands of jobs – actually 1.7 million estimated,” she said.