To say it’s been a year of uncertainty for the ethanol industry is an understatement. Controversy swirls around granting of small refiner exemptions to large corporations. One smaller, Indiana-based refiner, CountryMark, says the exemption is vital because without it, profitability long term would be in jeopardy. On the other hand, some argue too many exemptions go to companies that don’t need them.
These sources contend that without exemptions, demand for ethanol would increase. Some inside the refining industry counter that it wouldn’t make a difference. It’s a complex issue because the government uses complicated formulas to determine compliance by refiners.
What’s real are jobs lost after ethanol-producing companies reacted to approval of refiner exemptions in early August. The Cloverdale, Ind., plant shuttered its doors, and others cut back on employees. In fact, one of my relatives lost his job at an ethanol plant in northern Indiana as part of the layoffs. The Indiana Corn Growers Association, in cooperation with Indiana’s ethanol producers, sent a letter asking for action to Indiana’s congressional delegation.
One might think recent progress in trade with Japan would improve the outlook for ethanol. However, Ryan LeGrand, U.S. Grains Council president and CEO, commented that although it was a good first step, more must be done. He hopes to see movement on trade soon, which would help the ethanol sector.
“The U.S.-Japan agreement announced by the president will solidify our long-standing partnership for the future and create a platform for growth into new sales and new sectors, including the potential for sales of U.S. ethanol,” LeGrand says. “Japan is one of the largest and most loyal U.S. corn customers, having bought more than $2 billion of U.S. corn in the most recent marketing year. And as a country looking to improve the environmental impact of its fuel, it is an important future market for U.S. ethanol products.”
One step forward
Amid this background of uncertainty, one positive event occurred in Brownstown, Ind., recently. Members of both the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance joined representatives from Premier Energy and CountryMark to celebrate the opening of Premier Energy’s new fueling station. Premier Energy is part of Premier Cos., a co-op headquartered in Seymour, Ind.
The new station will feature Unleaded 88, which is a blend of 15% ethanol with regular unleaded gas, as well as E85.
“The Indiana Corn Marketing Council is thrilled to partner with Premier Energy to help make higher-ethanol fuel blends available to Hoosiers,” says Tim Gauck, a Greensburg, Ind., farmer and ICMC board member.
The station also includes a pump featuring CountryMark Dieselex-4 On-Road fuel, which is biodiesel offered in blends of B5, B10, B15 and B20.
There is still work to do related to ethanol, however. Shortly after this grand opening, a farmer contacted us, disappointed that his local ag-based fuel outlet didn’t offer ethanol and didn’t appear to be friendly to biofuels.
He believes farmers and ag businesses should take the lead in promoting ag fuels. Unless farmers and farm companies support them statewide, he argues nonfarm people aren’t likely to follow suit. It’s a valid point. Perhaps agriculture needs a consistent, uniform approach to ethanol and biofuels.
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