Land Availability Should Determine Biomass Use

According to a paper published by the nova-Institute on agricultural feedstock use in industrial applications, efficiency and sustainability assessed on a case-by-case basis Global Prod Capacity by region 2015should be the sole criteria in judging the choice of feedstock used. The paper reviewed the “food versus fuel” arguments surrounding feedstocks to help shed light on the debate on how feedstocks should be used. The institute further stressed that the real issue is land availability for growing biomass for different purposes.

The paper refers to studies asserting that, even after satisfying food demand of a rapidly growing world population, enough arable land would remain available for purposes other than food production. The authors argue that the best usage of these areas is achieved by considering the land-efficiency of different crops. Studies show that many food crops are more land-efficient than non-food crops. According to the paper, they require less land to produce the same amount of e.g. fermentable sugar (commonly used in biotechnology processes) than non-food crops or so-called second generation feedstock, e.g. lignocelluloses.

“Efficiency and sustainability should be the leading criteria when selecting renewable feedstock for industrial purposes, such as the production of bioplastics,” said Hasso von Pogrell, Managing Director of European Bioplastics, embracing the paper as a welcome contribution to the discussion. “If the industry were to neglect the use of first generation feedstock at this point in time, it would do a disservice to society and the environment,” he added. “In addition to being currently more efficient, the use of food-crops for industrial purposes has the major advantage that, in times of food crisis, these crops could be reallocated to food use.”

European Bioplastics is in favor of promoting the use of second or even third generation feedstock for industrial purposes. However, as long as food crops continue in many cases 13-08 use of harvested agricultural biomassto represent the most efficient feedstock by far, discrediting their use would be misguided and a step in the wrong direction in achieving the European Commission sustainability targets.

“This often very emotional discussion needs to be steered into a more fact based direction,” continued von Pogrell. “Only two percent of the global agricultural area is actually used to grow feedstock for material production and only 0.006 percent is used in the production of bioplastics, compared to 98 percent used for food, feed and as pastures,” he concluded.

These findings echo the conclusion of a study recently published by the World Bank, according to which an increase in food prices is largely influenced by the oil price. Biofuels and, by extension, bioplastics play a negligible factor here. The study looked at food commodities such as corn, wheat, rice, soybeans and palm oil and compared commodity prices to energy prices, exchange rates, interest rates, inflation, income and a stocks-to-use ratio to determine which of these drivers had the most impact on food prices.

Vilsack Says Congress Only Works During Crisis

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Ames, Iowa this week and while there gave remarks during the Iowa Farm Bureau’s (#IFBF13) 2013 Economic Summit. The standing room only crowd wanted to hear what Vilsack would say regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the Farm Bill.

IFBF13 - VilsackVilsack was not complementary of the current Congress saying that they only work when there is a crisis. He used the fiscal cliff as an example. Currently, Congress is reviewing the RFS and the Senate and House have not come to terms on a Farm Bill, or “food, fuel and jobs bill. He said that the RFS was working, and needs to stay in place.

Vilsack said that Congress needs to do the work now on the Farm Bill and the agricultural industry must not succumb to an extension of the current bill because this rewards failure. He also noted that the ag industry deserves a Congress who understands the importance of agriculture.

The Farm Bill, said Vilsack, is not just a food bill. It is a jobs bill, an energy bill, a research bill and an innovation bill, its a conservation bill, its an entrepreneurial bill.  Without all of the above, the U.S. will lose its place as the leader in agriculture. It’s all of these things.

Listen to UDSA Secretary Tom Vilsack’s remarks here: Vilsack: Congress Only Works During Crisis

Syngenta Pledges Support for Renewable Fuels

During the American Ethanol 200 presented by Enogen this past Saturday held at the Newton Speedway, Syngenta announced a three-year commitment to contribute $1 to the renewable fuels industry for every acre planted with Enogen trait technology. The initiative, that began with this year’s growing season, will help support America’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and promote the benefits of renewable fuels grown in America.

enogen“Renewable fuels are an essential part of the American energy equation, benefiting consumers, farmers and American energy independence,” said David Witherspoon, Head of Renewable Fuels at Syngenta. “Ethanol, whether from corn or other biomass sources, is an energy source for today and tomorrow driving economic growth and innovation.”

Syngenta is currently focused on increasing the productivity of renewable fuels made from traditional and non-traditional feedstocks such as corn. The Enogen trait technology is a biotech output trait designed specifically for ethanol production. The corn expresses alpha amylase enzyme directly in the corn kernel and replaces liquid alpha amylase enzyme. According to Syngenta, the unique enzyme present in Enogen grain facilitates a simpler, more efficient ethanol production process helping to maximize the productivity of every gallon produced, and thus the profitability of the ethanol plant.

By helping to create savings in electricity, natural gas and water usage, Enogen corn also has the potential to help an ethanol plant reduce its carbon footprint. Syngenta says that for a 100-million gallon plant, efficiency improvements by Enogen can save annually:

  • More than 68 million gallons of water
  • Nearly 10 million KWh of electricity
  • More than 350 billion BTUs of natural gas
  • More than 100 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions

Enogen corn represents a unique value proposition for local communities as well. Enogen corn hybrids are planted under contract with an ethanol plant licensed to use the technology. In exchange for high-quality grain and robust alpha amylase enzyme, ethanol plants pay an average 40 cent per bushel premium to local farmers for their Enogen grain, an economic boost that could mean as much as $80 to $90 an acre for some Midwestern farmers.

Houses Passes Revised Version of Farm Bill

The House has voted to pass a partisan, revised version of its farm bill, H.R. 1947, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (FARRM) 216 to 208. The Chairman Frank D Lucasversion does not include food stamp authorization but keeps in tact current agricultural programs. The debate over the bill has been long and drawn out and took up most of yesterday and today before the bill was brought up for vote with pleas from Chairman Frank D. Lucas to pass the bill and go home to their families.

The House claims that FARRM helps diversify the nation’s energy supply and creates new economic opportunities in rural America by promoting the development of advanced biofuels and renewable energy. However, the bill eliminates mandatory funding and reauthorizes programs at reduced discretionary funding levels that they say will save taxpayers $500 million. Energy programs affected include: Rural Energy for America (REAP), Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP), Biorefinery Assistance Program (BAP), Biobased Markets Program, and the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program.

In addition, FARRM reauthorizes the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, the Repowering Assistance Program, the Biomass Research and Development Program, the Feedstock Flexibility Program, and the Community Wood Energy Program. It repeals or ends authorizations of the Biofuels Infrastructure Study, and the Renewable Fertilizer Study, the Rural Energy Self sufficiency Initiative, and the Forest Biomass for Energy Programs.

Screen Shot 2013-07-11 at 3.51.47 PMIn response to the passage of the bill, Brian Jennings, executive vice president of the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) said, “Now that the U.S. House has adopted its version of the Farm Bill, ACE will be working to encourage the House-Senate conference committee to finalize legislation that mirrors the Senate Bill. The Senate version contains support for important Energy Title initiatives, particularly mandatory funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).”

Jennings continued, “These REAP funds provide vital cost-share assistance to help petroleum marketers make upgrades or install new equipment at retail stations, ensuring consumers have access to renewable and affordable fuels such as ethanol. We are hopeful Congress enacts a multi-year, comprehensive farm bill that resembles the Senate legislation before the September 30 deadline.”

The Senate version includes a robust portfolio energy program as well as funds the programs. The next step is for the House-Senate conference committee to draft and present a compromised version of the bill.

Groups React to FAO Biofuels Study

Emotions are mixed regarding the findings in a recent report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that was released in Rome during a meeting with ambassadors. The report found that biofuel from crops has a significant and direct impact on food prices and food availability. In response, ActionAid said the report shows how Europe’s biofuel targets are driving up food prices and increasing hunger among the world’s poorest people.

Screen Shot 2013-06-27 at 8.35.14 AMThe report comes several weeks before a final decision is made by the Environment Committee, part of the European Commission, on how much fuel will be allowed to be made from feedstocks used to produce food.

“It is a wake-up call to the EU to get its house in order on food and fuel. This means some hard work ahead for MEPs and Member States who are working on redefining EU biofuels policy,” said Anders Dahlbeck, ActionAid’s biofuels policy advisor. “However as we speak, the biofuels industry is lobbying hard against new proposals before the Parliament and Council to limit the use of food crops for biofuels. MEPs and member states must not bow to industry pressure – they must end the use of food for fuel.”

The global biofuels industry has in fact taken issue with the report and the Global Renewable Fuels Association (GRFA) says that there are several methodological and factual errors in the report including the omission of key co-products in calculating the net benefits of biofuels; the overly prescriptive policy recommendations; and the inclusion of unproven land use methodologies. It should be noted that the EU biofuels policy that is under review specifically does not take in to account indirect land use in its calculations. Continue reading

Biofuels & Iowa Pork – A Swinetiffic Relationship

Today is Iowa Swine Day (June 27) and the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) is taking a time to show how renewable fuels production is boosting the profitability of raising hogs in Iowa.

DDGs“On Iowa Swine Day, it’s important to remember that a strong renewable fuels industry means a strong hog industry here in Iowa,” said IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw. “IRFA members have developed solid relationships with Iowa’s pork producers and the numbers show it. Whether it’s purchasing choice white grease for biodiesel production or supplying affordable distillers grains for feed, Iowa renewable fuels and Iowa pork production have a symbiotic relationship.”

IFRA says that ethanol production helps Iowa pork producers by providing an affordable, high protein feed called distillers grains (DDGS). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and ProExporter Network recently noted that Iowa hogs are the number one in-state consumer of DDGS, utilizing approximately 1.2 million tons of each year.  This represents 61 percent of in-state DDGS consumption.

In addition, biodiesel production not only lowers the cost of soybean meal, it also increases the value of animal fats benefiting Iowa’s pork producers. A recent study by Cardno ENTRIX found that an Iowa hog producer realizes a $4 per head boost in profitability because of Iowa’s biodiesel industry. Therefore, an Iowa farmer raising both crops and hogs would see nearly a 20 percent increase in net income because of Iowa biodiesel production.

CFS Releases New Biofuels Studies

HLPE Biofuels and Security ReportSeveral new studies have been released on biofuels and investment needs of small-scale farmers released by the High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). Report no. 5: Biofuels and Food Security finds that world biofuel production increased five-fold in the decade between 2001-2011. As a result, the report attempts to identify the impacts that biofuel policies and the development of biofuel markets are having on food security.

The report studies several specific issues including:

  • To what degree does the sector divert crops from food to fuel?
  • How does biofuel production factor into high food prices?
  • Is the biofuel development model pro-poor?
  • What are the implications for land availability and use and what do they mean for rural communities and the environment?

Report no. 6: Investing in Smallholder Agriculture for Food Security looks at how to HLPE Report Smallholder Ag,jpgpromote greater investment in small-scale agriculture. This study finds that “a vast majority of the hungry people in the world are, paradoxically, small farmers” and calls for a “new deal” for smallholder farmers. This type of farmer constitutes the majority of farm families in the world and make crucial contributions to household, national and global food security.

The report examines:

  • The diversity of smallholder agriculture in the world
  • The constraints to investments
  • What types of investments are needed at farm and broader levels

It also proposes the development of national strategies for investment in smallholder agriculture.

DuPont Exec Talks Food and Fuel

ifama-13-dupontFood security was the topic for an address last week to the International Food and Agribusiness Management Association (IFAMA) World Forum by DuPont Executive Vice President Jim Borel.

“We need a new generation of food visionaries who can see the tremendous opportunity made possible by the simple fact that people have to eat,” Borel told the group of more than 450 attendees during his address.

The DuPont executive talked about the need for local solutions, information transfer, sustainability in a broad sense, and collaboration. His best quote was about technology. “There’s more technology in a kernel of seed corn than there is in an iPhone,” and even more than that, there’s more hope to feed the world.

After his talk, I had a chance to interview Mr. Borel and I asked him about one issue that he did not touch on during his address – how agriculture can produce both food and fuel and how biofuels have been blamed for food shortages in the world. “This is an important debate,” he said. “First of all, food security and energy security and sustainability are both important issues and each country and government need to come up with the policies and approaches that work best for them.”

Borel believes that at this point, grain-based ethanol production has pretty much reached a peak in the United States. “I think the growth in biofuels production is largely going to be coming from cellulosic sources,” he said. “Our activity in DuPont through our industrial biosciences business is we’re working on enzymes that can help the grain ethanol producers be even more efficient at getting more ethanol out of every bushel of corn.”

He adds that they are working on the next generation of biofuels. “We just broke ground last fall on a commercial scale demonstration facility in Iowa … to take corn stover and convert is to ethanol,” said Borel. “It’s using an agricultural waste to produce something of real value.”

Interview with DuPont Exec Jim Borel

IFAMA 23rd World Forum Photo Album

Needed Now: Farm Bill with Energy Funding

For two years the Senate has passed its version of a farm bill. Last year the House did not and later this week is set to debate its version of the bill. During this process, the current farm bill was extended but ag, energy and other groups are at a full court press to get a bill passed before the legislators break for summer vacation.

I sat down with Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy recently who is a Washington insider and FEW13-growthenergy-buishas been working on behalf of the agricultural industry and now the biofuels industry for many years to learn more about the current farm bill, or lack thereof.

Buis explained that the 2008 Farm Bill was the first ever with an energy title, all designed to help investment into next generation biofuels. This year, the Senate extended the program and funded it and those are two critical programs said Buis. If a new bill isn’t passed, the extension will expire on September 30, 2013 and with it all the energy programs.

He continued, what the House does is only authorize the programs but don’t put in any money in the bill. “It’s a good press release but it doesn’t mean anything. And the battle will probably end up like that if and when it gets through the House they won’t have any funding for the programs and restrictions on whether or not USDA can fund development under the REAP program, flex pumps in rural communities. They’ll probably have a prohibition which the Senate does not and will have it work in out in conference.”

Tom along with his members have been extremely active in defending ethanol on the Hill and will continue to do so. Realizing that they need more boots on the ground, several years ago Growth Energy launched its “Growth Force” where anyone from around the world can sign up to support biofuels. Now the association is taking it one more step, and individuals from around the country can become members of Growth Energy.

During our sit down, Buis also discussed several other current issues including market access and the ongoing debate over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Listen to my interview with Tom here: Needed Now: Farm Bill with Energy Funding

Visit the 2013 FEW Photo Album.

PERC Offers Propane Farm Incentive Program

The Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) is encouraging producers to upgrade their grain dryers with a $5,000 incentive through the Propane Farm Incentive Program. Producers who purchase a new qualifying propane-fueled dryer from GSI Group or Mathews Co. now through the end of 2013 can apply for the incentive through PERC’s nationwide research program. In exchange, producers report post-harvest performance data to PERC.

Propane Farm Incentive Program LogoFor many farmers this spring, planting has been a challenge with cool, wet and rainy conditions. This has led to planting delays that may lead to more grain drying in the fall, and today, nearly nine of of 10 farmers dry grain using propane-fueled equipment. New models can offer energy efficient designs that produce even, consistent drying and can save producers money.

New and improved grain drying equipment is a profitable investment for producers, according to Mark Leitman, director of marketing and business development at PERC. “Mew propane-fueled grain dryers can be 30 to 50 percent more efficient than older models. These machines can produce huge energy savings for farmers, and we offer a $5,000 incentive on select, new models.”

The eligible models for the incentive include the GSI X-Stream series and Mathews Trilogy series dryers. PERC co-supported the development and testing of these machines because they’ve been proven to offer increased capacity, improved grain quality, and they can dry up to twice as many bushels per gallon of propane as previous models.

Groups Not Happy with Colorado Rural REP

Groups in Colorado are not happy with the new law that Governor John Hickenlooper signed, SB13-252, that mandates 20 percent of all electricity used by rural Colorado come from renewable sources. Hickenlooper signed an executive order relating to the measure that create an advisory committee to the Director of the Colorado Energy Office on the effective of SB13-252.

The Colorado Farm Bureau is one group and Don Shawcroft, president, said his organization is disappointed to see the Governor sign a measure that will put an unnecessary burden on many Colorado farmers and ranchers in rural communities. “This mandate will cost agricultural producers millions of dollars, and may put many family farms out of business.”

Devils Thumb RanchShawcroft said no voices from the agriculture community were included in the committee and its is very disconcerting that the Governor did not acknowledge the ag industry but putting a farmer or rancher on the advisory committee.

Several Colorado counties are also up in arms and are considering forming a 51st state called North Colorado. The Denver Post reports that a proposal to separate Weld, Morgan, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Washington, Yuma and Kit Carson counties from the rest of the state was hatched at a meeting of county commissioners last week.

According to state commissioners, efforts of the state to crack down on oil and gas as well as increases in rural renewable energy standards were “the straws that broke the camel’s back.” Of the counties affected, two of their main economic drivers are energy and agriculture.

These are also concerns of Shawcroft who said that the measure fails to put agriculture, the biggest consumer of energy in rural Colorado at the table. “We tried to talk to him about our concerns and how this will affect agriculture, but yet again, he didn’t include us in the ongoing conversation,” Shawcroft concluded.

Facts About Farmers and Farming

Pillar_2The Corn Farmers Coalition is educating policymakers in D.C. about how U.S. family farmers produce corn, (also used to produce ethanol) the top crop in the nation. Sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) and its state affiliates, the campaign showcases how innovative and high-tech corn farmers have become by introducing a foundation of facts about farmers and farmers. The campaign will also benefit consumers, who according to a recent ZimmPoll, ag marketing is “not so good”.

“This has always been a crucial time of year in Washington to make sure our lawmakers and those who influence them remember the importance of corn farming to our nation and our economy,” said Pam Johnson, NCGA president and a corn grower in Iowa. “Our state corn checkoff programs have seen the importance of this program each year for educating a very important audience about this essential crop  and its high value.”

TwoSheets_3The campaign launched June 1, 2013 with a major advertising presence in Washington that puts prominent facts about family farmers in front of thousands on Capitol Hill, starting with “station domination” at Union Station through the month of June. The large-format ads will travel to the Capitol South Metro station for July. In addition, online advertising will appear influential Hill publications. Continue reading

Uesugi Farms Turns Barren Land Into Ripe Commodity

Usegui Farms has turned barren farm land into a rip commodity with solar energy. Vista Solar along with Uesugi Farms’ General Manager Pete Aiello and several local leaders dedicated the solar power project with a ribbon cutting ceremony. The solar project was installed by Vista Solar and is now producing enough power from the sun to offset 91.5 percent of the farm’s electrical demand. Along with a zero-down operating base lease, the system is projected to create more than $2.6 million in savings over the next 25 years.

“Vista Solar did an excellent job helping us turn a business liability into an asset,” said General Manager Pete Aiello. “Not only did they provide professionalism and expertise in designing and installing the system, but they excelled in all the aspects surrounding it, including obtaining the financing and educating our staff about solar.”

uesegi_solar_panelsWith a low base flood elevation, this parcel of farmland has been prone to flooding, making it nearly impossible to grow crops. Uesugi Farms contracted with Vista Solar to create a design that could transform the unusable land into a solar generation facility. Elevated six feet off the ground to avoid flood damage, the system comprised of 300 Watt Canadian Solar panels and 3-phase, transformerless Refusol string inverters is capable of producing more than 1.25 million kilowatt hours of solar energy annually – enough energy to power more than 100 homes.

“Forward-thinking businesses like Uesugi Farms are motivated by the significant savings that solar can provide for their bottom line, but at the end of the day, they often have several other mission-critical places where their capital is needed. Being able to provide a way to start saving with solar right away while preserving precious capital and lines of credit is one of the things that makes this project and Vista Solar so unique,” said Jaymes Callinan, vice president of Vista Solar.

With the commissioning of their new solar system, Uesugi Farms has deepened its commitment to environmental stewardship by converting a barren plot of land into a carbon-offsetting, renewable energy-generator while adhering to their fiduciary duties as a family business. Aiello said this is a legacy decision that will benefit generations to come.

PacificAg Created Through Merger

PACAG-001 Final Logo CMYKSister companies Pacific Ag Solutions and Pacific PowerStock have merged to become PacificAg. According to the company, the merger creates the largest agricultural residue and hay harvesting business in the U.S. with operations in seven states and the largest fleet of biomass harvesting equipment in the country.

“We have always served two important markets: demand for forage crops for livestock to feed a growing global middle class and dynamic growth in the uses and demand for agricultural biomass to replace petroleum and other fossil sources in the creation of bioenergy, cellulosic biofuels, bio-based chemicals and other bio-based products. Originally we felt two sister companies were necessary to meet the demands of these distinct marketplaces,” said Bill Levy, founder and CEO of PacificAg.

“Years of experience developing and operating feedstock supply chains for both domestic and export forage and for bioenergy markets have demonstrated that in practice, serving these distinct customer groups involves leveraging the same equipment fleets, complementary operational and logistics skills and processes,” Levy continued. “The synergies now apparent far outweigh any benefits of operating the former companies separately. Operating as one company will enable us to be more responsive and more competitive to meet the growing demand for agricultural biomass at commercial scale.”

According to Levy, PacificAg is now the largest player in supply chain logistics. The company’s dedicated supply chain model, which depends on multi-year supply agreements and close, formalized cooperation from one end of the chain to the other, provides the most effective way to reduce the risks posed by cost, quality and supply volatility. Levy added that its proprietary PowerStock Pro supply chain management system provides a turnkey tool for managing every aspect of the complex feedstock supply chain from grower contracts to GIS enabled field mapping to equipment deployment, harvest results and inventory management.

ISU Seeks Input on DDGs

cattle eating distillers grainsIowa State University is conducting a survey of livestock producers use of feed-related co-products from ethanol production (distillers grains). The survey is focused on the beef, dairy, swine and poultry sectors. It is being funded by a coalition consisting of the Renewable Fuels Association, the Distillers Grains Technology Council and the Corn Utilization Councils from Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska.

“The feedback gained from the survey will be used to help improve co-product quality, which can help livestock producers with their feed costs and livestock performance,” said Kurt Rosentrater, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, who is leading the effort.

Livestock producers are invited to take the survey online until June 19, 2013.