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.

DuPont CEO Calls for Supporting RFS

dupont-kullmanThe CEO of DuPont today called on Congress and the administration to preserve Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

In a keynote speech at the 11th Annual World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, DuPont Chair and CEO Ellen Kullman said preserving the RFS would ensure regulatory stability for the renewable fuel industry and continue to encourage “private investment from companies like DuPont to create a sustainable bio-based economy.”

“Legislative and regulatory uncertainty has a direct impact on the growth of this industry,” Kullman said. “If the EPA issues an RFS rule with increasing biofuels volumes, supporting a stable regulatory environment, our industry can thrive.”

DuPont has invested heavily in the future of renewable fuels and will soon complete one of the world’s largest commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol biorefineries, set to open in Iowa later this year. DuPont committed over $200 million to the project, which will yield 30 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol per year, produced from corn stalks, leaves and cobs left in fields after harvest.

Kullman attended the BIO World Congress to accept the 2014 George Washington Carver Award, which each year honors one individual in the private sector, government or academia for leadership in using industrial biotechnology innovation.

Five Reasons To Love the RFS

The Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) has created a new video that briefly and creatively outlines five major reasons why the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is good for America.

1. The RFS saves money – 50 cents to $1.50 per gallon last year
2. The RFS reduces oil imports – ethanol displaced $48 billion in imported oil last year
3. The RFS cuts greenhouse gas emissions – equivalent of taking 7.9 million cars off the road
4. The RFS creates jobs – 86,000 direct and 300,000 indirect jobs from ethanol
5. The RFS spurs investment and innovation – cellulosic ethanol is here today

What’s not to love? Watch and share.

Reuters Story at Odds with Philly Energy Independence

novo-phillyThe mayor of Philadelphia delivered a “Declaration of Energy Independence” today to recognize the city’s and region’s contributions to domestic energy and energy security. At the same time Reuters broke a story claiming that Philadelphia oil refinery connections were the main forces behind the Obama administration proposal to lower volume requirements for biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this year.

Mayor Michael Nutter’s declaration proclamation was made at the request of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and Novozymes, marking the start of BIO’s World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology.

philly-energyAccording to the article, it was The Carlyle Group and Delta Air Lines, owners of two refineries in the Philadelphia area, that put the pressure on the administration to cut back on biofuels requirements by convincing policymakers that “the rising mandates would cripple their businesses and threaten thousands of jobs.”

The article claims that two Pennsylvania congressman were called on to take the refiners’ concerns about the RFS to the White House, and that in July and August of last year, “17 refiners and their allies visited the White House’s rulemaking arm, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to discuss the RFS. Only six biofuel supporters visited the OMB over the same time.” Reuters even produced a graphic to illustrate the comparison between visits by oil and ethanol lobbying interests last year.

Read the story here.

USDA Predicts Another Record Corn Crop

usda-logoThe U.S. Department of Agriculture released its initial assessment of the nation’s corn crop for the coming year on Friday, calling for another record based on the March 31
Prospective Plantings report.

Corn production is projected at 13.9 billion bushels, up slightly from the 2013/14 record with higher expected yields more than offsetting the year-to-year reduction in planted area. The corn yield is projected at 165.3 bushels per acre, up 6.5 bushels from 2013/14, based on a weather adjusted yield trend model and assuming normal mid-May planting progress and summer weather.

Farm organizations welcomed the news but sounded a note of caution.

corn-plant-14“America’s corn farmers continuously strive to improve and, in 2014, they certainly will make their achievements evident should these projections be realized,” said National Corn Growers Association Chairwoman Pam Johnson. “As farmers, we take great pride in our work and feel that the projections recognize our efforts. Yet, our optimism is tinged caution as we have all seen conditions change quickly and a crop shift course in a few short weeks.”

“Farmers are still out there facing the reality of unpredictable weather as they work to get their crops in the ground, favorable weather during the growing season and then cooperative weather again at harvest time,” added American Farm Bureau Federation crops economist Todd Davis. “There’s still a long way to go before the crops are in the bin.”

The USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand estimate projects U.S. corn use for 2014/15 will be two percent lower than in 2013/14, while corn used to produce ethanol in 2014/15 is expected to be unchanged on the year with gasoline consumption expected to remain flat in 2015.

New Record Distillers Grains Exports

Distillers grains exports set a new monthly record in March, while U.S. ethanol exports rebounded from the previous month, according to the latest numbers.

distillers-grainsThe Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) reports that March exports of U.S. distillers grains, which is the animal feed co-product from dry mill ethanol plants, were a record 1.16 million metric tons. March shipments were up 28% from February and topped the one million mark for just the fourth time in history. China accounted for half of the export shipments, with Mexico and South Korea taking the second and third place slots. Year-to-date, distillers grains exports as of March totaled 2.97 million metric tons, a 65% increase over the same period a year ago, putting the U.S. on pace to export a record 11.9 million metric tons this year.

At the same time, total U.S. ethanol exports, including both denatured and undenatured, were 84.0 million gallons in March, up 25% over February and just slightly below the January total of 86.2 million gallons. Canada and Brazil were top destinations in March, with both the Philippines and Nigeria re-entering the market. Meanwhile, U.S. ethanol imports totaled just 5.3 million gallons in March, making the United States a net exporter by a wide margin for the seventh straight month.

EPA Chief Explains RFS Proposal

epa-mccarthyThe administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency explained her agency’s proposal to lower the volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) to members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting meeting in Washington DC this week.

“Let me begin by reiterating that this administration sees renewable fuels as a big part of our way to adapt to climate change,” said Gina McCarthy. “I also know that it helps to provide some certainty in the rural economy and to create jobs.”

McCarthy explained that she went through the “gestation period” of renewable fuels. “It was my job to get the Renewable Fuel Standard originally done,” she said. “We were significantly challenged this year because of the high increase in the numbers in the statute and what we believed an inability to get all of the ethanol into the system and usable” which was why she said they “took a re-look at the numbers.”

She says they know “that re-look was not appreciated” by the agriculture community and others, but that’s why they are considering the comments received on the proposal very carefully. “I think you will see those comments reflected in the final rule,” she concluded.

Listen to McCarthy’s comments here: McCarthy RFS comments to farm broadcasters

Ag Secretary Blames Oil Industry for RFS Attacks

vilsack-nafbDuring a meeting with members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting on Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had strong words for the oil industry and its attacks on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“The oil industry has made a concerted, organized, well-financed attack on the Renewable Fuel Standard,” said Vilsack when asked about the EPA’s proposal to lower volume requirements for the RFS. “A lot of focus has been on the EPA and the administration, but it is the oil industry that has gone to court to try to limit the impact of the RFS. It is the oil industry that has gone to Capitol Hill to try to insert in appropriations bills and other bills an elimination or curtailment or restriction of the Renewable Fuel Standard.”

“It’s the oil industry working in concert with others that’s made it very difficult to expand higher blend availability,” the secretary continued. “So, what the EPA is doing I think is responding to the need to make sure that there is a strong, defensible RFS.” Vilsack says USDA shares that desire with the EPA. “Because there is no question there is a concerted attack and it is well-financed – and there is no question where the money is coming from.”

Listen to Vilsack’s comments here: Vilsack RFS comments to farm broadcasters

Thanks to Gary Cooper, AgNet West, for providing the audio.

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