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Corn+Soybean Digest

Buying Your Beans Back: Farmers say it pays to buy biodiesel

If you farm but don't use biodiesel, you need to ask yourself why. Other farmers certainly are. “Some farmers don't want to pay the extra 2-3¢/gallon for biodiesel. Those are the same guys sitting around and complaining about the price of soybeans,” says Newton, IA, farmer Bill Talsma.

“It's imperative we support our own product. You don't hear cattle producers complaining about paying the high price for beef and purchasing chicken instead,” he says. “There shouldn't be a single farmer in the United States that's not using biodiesel.”

More and more farmers are using the fuel, too. “The thing that got me started with biodiesel was a meeting with Cargill where the Iowa Soybean Promotion Board gave a presentation about the benefits,” says Pella, IA, farmer Ken Finaardt. “I figured why not help ourselves?”

Five-thousand gallons later, Finaardt is pleased with the results. “We've been using it all spring and have had no problems. No difference on power,” he says. “We use it in all our equipment except our trucks. As soon as we can buy it on the road, we'll use it in the trucks, too. Two cents a gallon is kind of a cheap price to pay to help ourselves.”

Finaardt's fuel distributor hadn't carried biodiesel until the Iowa farmer insisted on it. Now, 75% of distributor's dealers sell the product. “Quite a few more distributors in the area jumped on the bandwagon, too,” he says.

Although he normally uses a 10% blend, Finaardt is determined to up that percentage until the exhaust “smells like French fries. I went on a three-day tractor drive through Iowa with other farmers and used a 20% blend on the trip. But I couldn't smell any difference,” he says. “I'm going to run 20% in tractor pulls this year and see if I can smell a difference then.”

Iowa's Talsma brought biodiesel home for the first time last summer. So did some of his neighbors. “I haven't heard one complaint about it yet,” he says. “It's just like there's no change. With B2 you can't tell any performance issues at all.”

When suppliers dropped biodiesel from their inventory, Mitchellville, IA, farmer Edward Craig decided to “splash blend” his own. “We bought a 200 gallon shuttle from a supplier in Des Moines. When it's empty, the company will refill it from a tanker,” he says. “We're paying $1.75/gallon for soybean oil and figure it increases costs about 10¢/gallon when we run a 5% blend.” Craig blends the biodiesel with diesel in a 100 gallon fuel tank Craig tested different blends of biodiesel, from .25% to 100% before deciding on the 5% blend. “We're running the 5% for lubricity, which should extend our injector pump life,” he says. “It definitely cleans up the smoke on older tractors and we've noticed a little difference in smell.”

It's tough to put a number on what farmers are using in total. But the trend is clear. “Within the last two years, farmers have started to use biodiesel in earnest,” says Jenna Higgins of the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), Jefferson City, MO. “It has really caught on and is becoming a significant part of the market.”

That's a trend that needs to continue. “It's really short-sighted for farmers not to buy it and help the industry gain a foothold,” she says. “If demand is there, suppliers will carry it. Farmers need to ask their distributors to carry biodiesel and help build the infrastructure.”

That's particularly true in Minnesota, says Higgins, where the state legislature passed laws this year mandating the use of biodiesel. “Undoubtedly there will be efforts made to repeal that legislation,” she says. “So, it's critical to get a network setup that's created from farmer demand for the product.”

Regardless of where you farm, biodiesel is available. Although it's more plentiful in some states than it is in others. To find out where you can buy biodiesel, go to and click on the biodiesel distributors list, or call the NBB at 800-841-5849.

Talsma had to persuade his dealer that biodiesel was worth stocking. “I told him that I was going to start using biodiesel, and if he didn't have it I'd buy it somewhere else,” he says. “We started using it right before last fall's harvest.”

Fuel distributors find plenty of advantages when they do supply biodiesel blends, according to Higgins. “It helps them differentiate themselves from other suppliers,” she says. “That usually brings in new customers and builds their profits.”

Because biodiesel is still new, you have to make sure you know, and your supplier knows, what you're really getting. Soy biodiesel is biodiesel derived from 100% virgin soybean oil in a 2% minimum blend that meets ASTM D-6751 fuel standard. Some suppliers offer higher blends such as B5 and B10.

That seems simple enough, but there has been some confusion at times. “One co-op offered a soy enriched diesel. It turned out that the blend contained no more than .25% soybean oil,” explains Janine Van Vark, Iowa Soybean Promotion Board, Urbandale, IA. “That's like spit in a bucket. It doesn't do anything more than say you've got a little bit of soybean oil in the blend.”

You also need to be leery of diesel additives that contain soybean oil that is supposed to convert your diesel to biodiesel. “Rather than B5 or B2, we refer to those as B-not very much added product,” says NBB's Higgins.

But the bottom line, regardless of the blend, is you've got to buy it and believe in it. “We want farmers to think that they're investing back into themselves, because that's really what they're doing,” says Van Vark. “Farmers worried about the few cents a gallon extra need to remember that you had to pay more for ethanol, too.”

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