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.

Badger State Ethanol Hosts Foreign Ag Guests

wisconsin-tourBadger State Ethanol in Monroe, Wisconsin had the honor of hosting the 2014 Foreign Agricultural Attaché Tour this week.

The group is part of the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service and is made up of 26 representatives from more than a dozen countries including Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, France, Angola, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Philippines, New Zealand, Nigeria, Ghana, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection are playing host to the group for the week to educate them about the quality and diversity of Wisconsin agriculture. The group visited Badger State Ethanol on Monday to take a tour of the facility and learn about the importance of biofuels to the world economy.

Cellulosic Making Progress Despite Uncertainty

Advanced and cellulosic biofuels producers continue to press the administration for certainty in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to continue making investments for future expansion.

“Today we’re at the start, like oil was 160 years ago, or corn ethanol was four years ago, said Steve Hartig with POET-DSM Advanced Biofuels during a teleconference organized by the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) highlighting progress in the industry. His company just celebrated the grand opening of a cellulosic ethanol plant in Iowa. “We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this and are convinced cellulosic ethanol will be a key part of our future energy mix.”

Abengoa Bioenergy plant in Hugoton, KS

Abengoa Bioenergy plant in Hugoton, KS

Chris Standlee with Abengoa Bioenergy said his company is also invested substantially in commercializing cellulosic ethanol technology. “Abengoa’s been working on perfecting this technology for over 10 years,” said Standlee, adding that their plant will be holding a grand opening in Hugoton, Kansas next month.

Also participating in the teleconference was Vonnie Estes with GranBio, a plant being built in Brazil using sugarcane straw and bagasse as feedstocks. She noted that the uncertainty of the RFS is impacting their plans because they intend to export at least half of their plant’s production to the U.S. “The company has spent over $200 million in capital on this plant,” she said. “The plant (will be) really good for the U.S. in that it’s a source of low carbon fuels into the market.”

All three company representatives noted that they are postponing decisions to increase production of cellulosic biofuels due to the uncertainty created by EPA.

BIO teleconference on cellulosic ethanol advancements

Administration Offers New Renewable Initiatives

usda-logoAs USDA announced the investment $68 million in 540 new renewable energy and energy efficiency projects nationwide today, the White House offered new administrative actions to advance solar deployment and promote energy efficiency.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made the USDA announcement while in North Carolina to highlight USDA’s investments in rural renewable energy projects being funded through USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Vilsack visited Progress Solar in Bunn, N.C., which received a $3.4 million REAP loan guarantee in 2012 for installation of a solar array.

At the same time, President Obama announced new executive actions to further advance the development of solar technologies across the country which includes commitments from a broad coalition of 50 public and private sector partners, including leading industry, community development organizations and housing providers in 28 states. “USDA is proud to play a key role in Obama Administration’s efforts to promote the use of solar technologies,” Vilsack said. “Of the REAP projects funded today, 240 projects are for solar investments of $5.2 million in grants and $55.3 million in loans.”

In North Carolina alone, Vilsack announced $55.3 million in new REAP program loan guarantees and grants for 22 solar energy projects. For example, USDA is awarding a $3 million loan guarantee to Broadway Solar Center, LLC to help finance a 5 megawatt solar array in Columbus County, a $4.9 million loan guarantee for a similar project in Hertford County and a $2.1 million guarantee for a project in Warren County.

Iowa RFA Ad Challenges Biden on RFS

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) took out a full page ad in today’s Des Moines Register to ask Vice President Joe Biden to set the record straight on reports that he may have intervened to reverse the Obama Administration’s previous support for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

biden-iowaWith the headline “Say it ain’t so, Joe” the ad questions the vice president about the story out of Philadelphia in May that he urged EPA to lower the RFS after receiving a call from a Pennsylvania congressman on behalf of a refinery owned by the politically connected Carlyle Group. “This report, if true, is deeply troubling. We hope you’ll take the opportunity today to set the record straight. And more importantly, work with us to fix the Administration’s flawed proposal. It’s not too late – but we need your help.”

IRFA and other individuals and organizations involved in Iowa’s renewable fuels industry wrote a letter to the Vice President asking him to clarify the reports and to discuss the issue with Iowans. “Because he has thus far not responded, IRFA is now addressing the issue more publicly with Biden as he visits Iowa today,” said IRFA.

The Vice President delivered remarks in Des Moines today at a kick-off event for the Nuns on the Bus “We the People, We the Voters” bus tour. Not surprisingly, he did not mention renewable fuels during his address.

DuPont Chooses Murex to Market Cellulosic Ethanol

DuPont LogoDuPont Industrial Biosciences (DuPont) has selected Murex LLC to market the cellulosic ethanol produced from its 30-million-gallon-per-year plant in Nevada, Iowa. Upon completion, the facility will be the largest cellulosic ethanol plant in the world.

murex“Murex is a leading marketer in today’s ethanol market. Its team understands domestic and international ethanol dynamics and can hit the ground running to drive growth in the emerging cellulosic ethanol industry,” said DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol Commercial Leader Steven Ogle. “With this collaboration, DuPont is well-positioned to lead the deployment of cellulosic ethanol at a commercial scale.”

Murex has a strong presence in the domestic ethanol market and has been the largest exporter of domestically produced ethanol since 2010. Murex was one of the first marketers of advanced Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) and developed an in-house due diligence program prior to the Quality Assurance Program that allows smaller producers of advanced RINs to deliver their products and RINs to market.

Senate Committee Considers Energy Tax Reform

The Senate Finance Committee held a hearing today on Reforming America’s Outdated Energy Tax Code, led by chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR).

“It’s past time to replace today’s crazy quilt of more than 40 energy tax incentives with a
modern, technology-neutral approach,” said Wyden at the start of the hearing, adding that the disparity in how the tax code treats energy sources needs to end. “Traditional sources benefit from tax incentives that are permanently baked into law. But clean energy sources are stuck with stop-and-go incentives that have to be renewed every few years.”

The main goal of the hearing is to focus on extending the dozen or so tax incentives for alternative energy sources such as advanced biofuels, wind, and solar.

aeclogo“The title of the hearing is right,” said Advanced Ethanol Council Executive Director Brooke Coleman. “Investors are highly sensitive to protections offered by tax law, and today’s energy tax regime drives investment away from viable petroleum alternatives like cellulosic biofuels because oil tax breaks are richer and permanent. The short term fix is extending recently expired and existing tax incentives for clean energy this year, to buttress against those offered to fossil fuels permanently. But any broader discussion about America emerging as the leading energy innovator in the world starts and ends with the federal tax code. It simply won’t happen without serious energy tax reform.”

Among those testifying at the hearing today was former Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK), now a lobbyist who has represented several energy companies, who spoke against continuing wind energy tax incentives.

Big Corn Crop Getting Bigger

usda-logoUSDA has increased its estimate of the corn crop again this month, building on already forecast record highs. Corn production is forecast at 14.4 billion bushels, up 3 percent from both the August forecast and from 2013 and yields are expected to average 171.7 bushels per acre, almost 13 bushels an acre higher than last year.

NCGA-Logo“It will be the fifth record crop that we’ve had in the last 12 years,” says National Corn Growers Association Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett, who commented on the crop during a during a Fuels America press call Thursday discussing the importance of EPA keeping the ethanol requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) going forward. “When the energy bill was passed in 2008, there was a challenge to the corn industry to produce the corn, and we have produced the corn,” he said, adding that farmers have done it so well that prices have fallen back below cost of production.

“The American farmer has done it again!” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). “The innovation and rapid technology adoption we’ve seen in the corn sector over the past decade has been nothing short of astounding. The American farmer has again risen to the challenge to meet all demands for feed, food and fuel.”

RFANewlogoAs harvest ramps up in fields across the country, corn demand from the ethanol sector is ramping up as well. Dinneen notes that DOE projects 2014 ethanol production will be 14.3 billion gallons. “A decade ago, who would have dreamed that 14 billion bushels of corn and 14 billion gallons of clean-burning, domestically-produced ethanol would be the reality in 2014?,” he said.

Dinneen added that EPA’s proposal to reduce the 2014 RFS requirement for “renewable fuel” from 14.4 billion gallons to 13.01 billion gallons would effectively reduce demand for corn by some 500 million bushels, at a time when corn stocks are rising and prices are slumping to levels below the cost of production. “Now is not the time to artificially constrain demand for corn and tie the hands of the American farmer,” Dinneen said, urging EPA to “finalize a rule that returns the RFS to its intended trajectory.”

Dueling RFS Ads Have Same Tune

President Obama needs to overrule this misguided proposal from the EPA before it is too late and these new technologies move overseas. The fate of America’s advanced biofuel industry, along with the President’s clean energy legacy, are resting on his decision. Fuels America USA Today print ad

“Tell President Obama, stop playing politics – fix the RFS.”
American Petroleum Institute TV ad

fuels-americaBoth the American Petroleum Institute and Fuels America unveiled new media campaigns this week targeted at telling the White House what to do when it comes to volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Both organizations held conference calls with reporters to announce the new campaigns.

The single, full page, USA Today ad that will run during Climate Week September 19-21 is a sharp contrast to the oil industry’s multi-million dollar television, radio, and online advertising campaign. “This has been a David and Goliath struggle all along,” said Brent Erickson with the Biotechnology Industry Organization on behalf of Fuels America. “The biofuels industry has been struggling against this Goliath oil industry that has spent millions and millions of dollars on ads.”

The biofuels industry ad stresses the opening of the first large, commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol plants this year and warns that “the companies and investors looking to deploy the next wave of cellulosic ethanol facilities have put U.S. investment on hold” until a decision on the future of the RFS is made. The API ad calls the RFS “Washington red tape” and blames ethanol for raising food prices and contributing to hunger, even though corn prices are lower than breakeven for farmers this year, according to National Corn Growers Association Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett. “We are selling corn today at about 35% of what we did just a couple of years ago, certainly below the cost of production for many of our growers,” he said.

API’s Bob Greco says they launched their campaign in part because of recent statements from EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that the agency will raise ethanol requirements based on the latest gasoline demand figures for 2014. “Unfortunately, the administration seems to be playing politics with the RFS rule instead of doing what’s best for consumers,” Greco said. “You don’t have to be a political insider to see how the Iowa Senate race—and the White House fear of losing control of the Senate—plays into this decision.”

“Politics are being played on this issue by both sides,” said Doggett. “I don’t think anyone should be surprised.”

Fuels America is a “coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard and promoting the benefits of all types of renewable fuel already growing in America.” API is the “only national trade association that represents all aspects of America’s oil and natural gas industry.”

Listen to the Fuels America call, which also includes comments from POET-DSM’s Steve Hartig: Fuels America RFS Campaign call

Iowa E85 Sales Strong

IowaRFAlogoIowa motorists purchased over 2.9 million gallons of E85 in the second quarter of 2014, the second most sales in any second quarter on record, and a more than 200,000 gallon increase over the first quarter of 2014, according to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA).

“Two strong quarters of E85 sales are now in the books, and Iowa is poised for another big year in E85 sales,” said IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “As White House officials review the final RFS volume levels, they should take note that when given the choice, motorists firmly support lower-cost, higher-level ethanol blends.”

E85, a fuel blend containing between 70 and 85 percent ethanol, is currently sold at more than 200 fueling sites in Iowa, and can be used in all flex-fuel vehicles (FFV).

Ethanol Report on Corn and Food Prices

ethanol-report-adIn this edition of the Ethanol Report, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) Senior Vice President Geoff Cooper talks about how corn prices have fallen but food prices continue to rise, and how that shows the “food versus fuel” argument is false.

A new report from RFA compares corn prices to the price of dairy products, pork products, beef products, and poultry and egg products from January 2007 – July 2014.

Ethanol Report on Corn and Food Prices

Quad County Processors Host Grand Opening

The first refinery to produce cellulosic ethanol with a bolt-on process officially opened its doors today.

quad-open-group“This is a historic day not just for the ethanol plant, but for the entire region,” said Delayne Johnson, CEO of Quad County Corn Processors in Galva, Iowa. “This is a perfect example of cutting edge technology, right here in our backyard and we are thrilled to have our plant using this ingenuity.” The Adding Cellulosic Ethanol (ACE) project, newly re-named “Cellerate,” allows QCCP to produce 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol each year from corn kernel fiber at their plant in Galva, Iowa.

“Today’s grand opening is a direct result of the ingenuity and hard work of the employees and shareholders of QCCP, but it’s also a direct result of the kind of innovation that occurs when a policy like the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is in place,” said American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Executive Vice President Brian Jennings. “More than any other policy enacted by Congress, the RFS has been a catalyst for innovation, including the kind of technology advancement developed at QCCP to make cellulosic ethanol from corn kernel fiber.”

quad-open-bob-brianRenewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen participated in the grand opening ceremony and praised QCCP, noting, “To the management, staff and investors of Quad County Corn Processors I say a hearty congratulations on your vision and your commitment to seeing it through. To EPA I say get out of Washington and see what is happening in places like Galva, Iowa.”

Dinneen tweeted from the event, “Quad Co cellulosic plant can tell Big Oil “we told you so” and make them eat their words!”

American Ethanol a Winner for Corn Growers

fps14-ncga-robThe American Ethanol NASCAR program is in its fourth year now and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) considers it to be a big success.

NCGA incoming Vice President Rob Elliott of Illinois says American Ethanol began its partnership with NASCAR in 2011 supporting the transition to 15% ethanol. “NASCAR in its three levels has run over six million miles (on E15) which is the same number of miles EPA drove to prove E15 to be a good fuel,” Elliott said during an interview at Farm Progress Show this week. “The feedback we get is that 80% of NASCAR fans are now more likely to be very supportive of the use of ethanol in their own cars.”

The challenge still remains in getting more E15 into the market. “The ready availability of E15 at a broad number of stations, we’re just not there yet,” said Elliott, but he believes promoting through NASCAR is having an impact for the long term. “We’re moving the needle with 100 million NASCAR fans and we’ve seen the great benefit in the synergy created with NASCAR itself at a high level.”

American Ethanol is a partnership between NASCAR, NCGA, Growth Energy, New Holland with a number of individual ethanol producers and state corn grower groups.

Listen to an interview with Rob here: Interview with Rob Elliott, NCGA

2014 Farm Progress Show photo album

Corn Farmers Concerned About RFS and Low Prices

gps14-ncga-chipCorn farmers are concerned about the impact lower volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) could have on growers ready to harvest a record corn crop this year.

“We’re keeping a close eye on corn prices and are greatly concerned about efforts in Washington that may reduce or stifle demand for corn and raise the cost of production,” said National Corn Growers Association First Vice President Chip Bowling during the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa this week. “As thrilled as we are with a record crop, we know it has its challenges.”

Bowling says it will be detrimental if the EPA moves forward with its proposal to lower volume requirements for corn ethanol to be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. “Reducing the demand of corn for ethanol will significantly impact corn prices – at a time when prices are already too low,” said the corn farmer from Maryland. “We need stability and we need EPA to stick to the statutory amount of corn ethanol in the RFS.” Chip Bowling, NCGA comments on record corn crop
Interview with Chip Bowling, NCGA

2014 Farm Progress Show photo album

Iowa Gov Blames EPA for Deere Layoffs

fps14-govIowa Governor Terry Branstad paid a visit to the 2014 Farm Progress Show Tuesday and had some harsh words for the Environmental Protection Agency, which just last week sent a final version of the 2014 volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard to the White House for review. He blames uncertainty created by the proposed rule for the recent layoffs at Deere and Company. “The result is the price of corn has dropped so much that farmers are not buying equipment,” he said. “What the EPA has done is not only damaging farm income, but it’s costing us jobs in farm machinery and manufacturing.” Deere announced more than 100 people will be laid off indefinitely from its plant in Ankeny and 460 people will be laid off at its tractor factory in Waterloo.

Branstad also notes that cellulosic and other advanced biofuels production is moving forward with the first gallons produced this summer by Quad county corn processors and two more plants opening soon. “I’m going to the POET grand opening of their new cellulosic ethanol plant and then we have DuPont Pioneer that’s also opening one in Nevada,” he said. “The problem is the oil companies control the distribution and they’ve done everything they can to discourage retailers from offering blender pumps and E15 because ethanol is a lot cheaper than gasoline.”

Listen to my interview with the Governor here: Interview with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad

2014 Farm Progress photo album.

RFS Headed to OMB for Review

epaThe Environmental Protection Agency has sent its final rule on 2014 volume obligations under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review in a last step before public release. Renewable fuels groups responded to the news today.

“We’re pleased to see the process moving forward and hope the final rule will show that this Administration is standing behind our national goals for clean, domestic fuels that strengthen our economy and national security,” said National Biodiesel Board Vice President of Federal Affairs Anne Steckel. “The original EPA proposal and continued delays have severely disrupted the U.S. biodiesel industry this year. We can begin to reverse that damage with a meaningful increase in the biodiesel volume that is finalized as quickly as possible so that producers can ramp up production in a timely fashion.”

“While we have not seen the rule, we hold strong in our belief that EPA and OMB will fulfill President Obama’s commitment to biofuels as a means of greater energy independence, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and wider availability of cost-saving alternative fuels for American consumers,” said Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen. “This decision is about more than targets and gallons, it is about a rationale that places highest importance on the long term strength of this country and not the bottom line of oil companies.”

“While OMB has up to 90 days to review this rule, what is most important is the content of the final rule,” added Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “Ultimately, this final rule should promote the policy goals of the RFS and call for an increase in the production of renewable fuels, so we can continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs at home that cannot be outsourced and mitigate climate change, while we improve our environment.”

Brian Jennings, Executive Vice President of the American Coalition for Ethanol, says his members are pleased with the progress. “Anything short of that turns the keys to the RFS over to the oil companies and puts cellulosic biofuel at risk,” said Jennings. “While all stakeholders have waited a long time for the final rule, and it could take another 30 days or more for interagency review, getting the rule done right is far more important than getting it done quickly.”

Since the rule is not public yet, there is no word on whether the volume requirements were changed from the initial proposal, which reduced the amount of ethanol and kept the biodiesel requirement the same. Senator John Thune (R-SD) expects some middle ground. “I think we’ll see an upward change,” he says. “I hope it’s a significant upward change and I hope that in ’15 they look at this in a different way.”

Thune still expects it will be later in the fall before a final rule is announced. EPA received over 340,000 comments on the proposal.