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Articles from 2009 In September


Farmers Remain Guardians of Ethanol Industry

Farmers Remain Guardians of Ethanol Industry

Farmers and locally-owned ethanol facilities are the foundation upon which America's ethanol industry has been built. On September 25, six such facilities reaffirmed that importance by forming a joint venture and purchasing the previously idled VeraSun ethanol facility in Janesville, Minn. VeraSun declared bankruptcy last year and its plants have been sold.

Guardian Energy is a joint venture between four ethanol plants in Minnesota - at Little Falls, Benson, Claremont, and Winthrop - and a plant at Mason City, Iowa and a plant at Minden, Neb. Guardian Energy has closed on the purchase of the 100-million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant at Janesville, Minn.

Locally-owned Ethanol Plants Form Guardian Energy

"Drawing on the experience of its member plants, Guardian Energy is rapidly working to bring the facility on line this fall," says interim CEO and board president Randall Doyal. "We are actively recruiting and interviewing candidates from across the region to fill more than 45 new jobs. We will work closely with local farmers to create a new, value-added market for their corn, as well as with other local suppliers who are already at work completing the plant, putting the finishing touches on the plant site, and bringing in supplies necessary to operate the facility." Doyal also serves as CEO of Al-Corn Clean Fuel.

"As locally-owned and operated facilities, we are proud to continue the tradition of local ownership and excited about the economic opportunities this plant will bring to Janesville and the entire southern Minnesota community," says Ben Brown, CEO of Heartland Corn Products and secretary of Guardian's board.

Specifically, Guardian Energy LLC is the cooperative effort of six Midwestern farmer-owned ethanol plants. These plants believe the economic benefits of producing ethanol should stay in the local communities and that has been key to the success of each of the member plants involved in Guardian Energy. Guardian Energy negotiated with the banks that were holding the Janesville facility, and those negotiations led to the successful close and transfer of ownership of the Janesville plant to Guardian Energy on September 23, 2009. 

Believe strongly in local ownership of ethanol production

"We believe strongly in the local ownership model of ethanol production," says Kerry Nixon, Guardian board member and CEO of Central Minnesota Ethanol.  "Knowing your investors personally and having a relationship with the communities in which we operate puts us in a good position to weather the economic storms we have seen of late. We are committed to making Guardian Energy a successful enterprise, not just for its investors but for the community of Janesville as well."

"America's farmers and rural communities have long been the backbone of America's drive toward a renewable energy future," says Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen. "The creation of Guardian Energy underscores once again that the future of American energy must run through Main Street, not just Wall Street. Locally-owned ethanol plants provide the kind of value-added, economic opportunities that few industries can match. The RFA is proud to welcome Guardian Energy to the ranks of America's ethanol producers."

The pending start up of this once-idled facility continues the trend of increasing profitability in the ethanol industry, he says. Currently, the industry is capable of producing 11.5 billion gallons of ethanol a year and well on its way to meeting the targets of the Renewable Fuels Standard. The six facilities comprising the Guardian Energy joint venture are Al-Corn Clean Fuel, Central Minnesota Ethanol, Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, Golden Grain Energy, Heartland Corn Products and KAPPA Ethanol.

State of Iowa Recognizes USDA's Vilsack and EPA's Jackson

State of Iowa Recognizes USDA's Vilsack and EPA's Jackson

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey today recognized U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson for their efforts to support conservation in Iowa.  Northey presented the awards to USDA and EPA officials during the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force that is meeting in Iowa.

"The success of the conservation programs in Iowa would not be possible without the collaboration and support of our federal partners," says Northey.  "Secretary Vilsack and Administrator Jackson provide vital leadership to these federal agencies that are important financial support and technical assistance to our conservation efforts."

Wetlands will work but we need a lot more of them

Northey presented Vilsack with the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture's "Partnership Award" in recognition of USDA's partnership with Iowa in implementing the Iowa Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, or CREP. 

Through the partnership between USDA's Farm Service Agency and Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, 72 wetlands have been restored or are under construction or are in design stage, to remove 40% to 70% of the nitrate in the drainage from upperlying croplands in the state. These 72 wetlands act as filters and will treat the drainage from 86,100 acres of watershed in the state--removing 54,000 tons of nitrates over their projected life.

Northey presented Jackson with the Iowa "Science and Collaboration Award" in recognition of EPA's support and funding through a $1 million grant to the Iowa Department of Agriculture for the "Integrated Drainage-Wetland Systems for Reducing Nitrate Loads from Des Moines Lobe Watersheds." This grant has funded work by the department and Iowa State University over the past five years to develop new technologies to reduce nitrate from Iowa croplands affecting Iowa water supplies and reaching the Gulf of Mexico.

New science and technologies developed to help fix environment

This EPA collaboration and funding has fostered the development of new science and technologies for addressing these environmental concerns.  A direct outcome is the new technologies and implementation model of the Iowa Drainage and Wetland Landscape Systems Initiative, which Secretary Northey today has announced the commitment of $4 million of bond funds to begin initial pilot demonstrations and assessments.

The awards were presented during the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force meeting that is being held in Iowa on September 23 and 24.  The Task Force is made up of members from five federal agencies and 10 state agencies and is working to address the environmental concerns associated with the hypoxia zone, also known as the "dead zone."

Former Extension Educator Applies Trade in Afghanistan

When Julie Douglas, an Indiana farm girl and part of the ag communications staff at Purdue University, returned from a short trip to Kabul University, her stories of an area starved for education but locked out of the modern world by war and regime rule for nearly 30 years, sparked an interest to learn more. She was there because she was covering how Rick Foster, a Purdue entomologist, was trying to help people there learn about insect control.

The education void is so large that when Afghan professors come here to train, those who deal with insects don't even know there is such a thing as insect nomenclature. When they want to share with their students, they must hand-draw illustrations. Many of the faculty at Kabul University left once war shut down the university. Closed for eight years, it is making a comeback, but it is a sad, slow process, sources say.

To find out more, Indiana Prairie Farmer spoke with Ned Kalb, the only Purdue connection permanently on the ground in the country. Other professors helping in what's called the A-four project, trying to bring agricultural education up to speed there, come and go. Kalb will be there until early December.

Kalb was once Extension educator, serving in Marion County, amongst other places. After retirement, he and his wife were both involved in various types of international work. That qualified him for the role he plays know, trying to encourage professors to become better trained in Kabul.

Even students know the education is substandard, Kalb says. "But many are optimistic. I really think there is great potential here, and I feel we're making a difference. If I didn't think so, I would have went home long ago," Kalb says.

His sacrifice includes being away from his wife and family. Fortunately, he can talk to them at bargain prices, the same way he did the interview, over a communication system that utilizes the Internet. He talks into his computer, whoever he's talking to on the other side of the world uses a land-line phone. In a place where open sewers run down next to the sidewalks, such advanced communication seems out of place. It's just another part of the puzzle that exists in that part of the world.

"Security is something that becomes part of your life," Kalb says. If you feared for your safety constantly, you couldn't function, he notes. Yet it's something you never forget about at any time. "You learn to do things randomly," he says. "You don't know who might be watching in the shadows, looking for a pattern in your life. I wouldn't dream of walking to the university and walking home at the same times every day, or going to the market at the same time every week. You vary your schedule at random. It's just one of the things you do that helps protect yourself.

USDA Program Delivery to be Studied

USDA Program Delivery to be Studied

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the award of a competitive contract for an independent assessment of the Delivery of Technical and Financial Assistance at USDA to the Jackson Lewis Corporate Diversity Counseling Group. Under the contract, Jackson Lewis will evaluate many key programs at USDA to identify barriers to equal and fair access for all USDA customers and provide recommendations to assist the USDA Secretary in transforming USDA into a model organization.

 

The assessment will focus on the effectiveness of USDA programs in reaching America's diverse populations in a non-discriminatory manner, with particular attention on accessibility, equity, fairness, and accountability. Based on their assessment, the team will develop recommendations for actions USDA should take to ensure that its program delivery and organizational structure is providing all Americans with fair and equal access to USDA programs.

House Committee Studies Farm Bill's Research Title

House Committee Studies Farm Bill's Research Title

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit, Energy, and Research held a hearing Wednesday to review implementation of the research title of the 2008 Farm Bill. Congressman Tim Holden, D-Pa., chaired the hearing which featured testimony from three witnesses, including Dr. Rajiv Shah, the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics at USDA.

 

"We expect the changes we made in the 2008 Farm Bill will enhance cooperation and maximize efficiency throughout USDA's research agencies," Holden said. "Agricultural research is in high demand, and is an important investment in the future of our food, fiber, and fuel system."

 

Oct. 1 is the deadline for implementation of several significant provisions of the research title of the farm bill. The bill streamlined agricultural research by establishing a National Institute of Food and Agriculture. In addition, the bill created a new premier research program called the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative to meet the growing list of needs in agricultural research, extension, and education for food and agricultural sciences.

Cabinet Members Studying Energy Transmission

Cabinet Members Studying Energy Transmission

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told energy industry officials Wednesday that the federal government's past electric transmission policy has been as fragmented and disjointed as the nation's outdated power grid. Salazar called the nation's current electric transmission grid extraordinarily inefficient, geographically fragmented and vulnerable to cyber attack, brownouts, and other disruptions. He said it simply isn't designed to move large loads from areas with high renewable energy potential to the areas of highest demand.

 

"For too long, our nation's electric transmission policy has been, frankly, a low priority across all federal agencies," Salazar said. "It can take years to navigate the bureaucracy and permits needed for a multi-state transmission project. The process often involves several state agencies, local regulators, and federal land management agencies – each with the power to block a particular project."

 

According to Salazar, the Administration is using a Cabinet-level working group to develop a unified, forward-looking strategy for citing, cost allocation, and coordinating the permitting for proposed transmission projects. The Cabinet group is developing a coordinated federal permitting process that can review and approve permit applications that cross federal agency jurisdictions and mapping out electric corridors that meet the needs of the clean energy economy.

Boxer-Kerry Climate Bill Receives Mixed Reviews

Boxer-Kerry Climate Bill Receives Mixed Reviews

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson is critical of the draft climate change and energy legislation introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and John Kerry, D-Mass. Johnson says the language fails to address the unique role agriculture can play. He says the language in the Boxer-Kerry bill fails to address several key provisions supported by the NFU.

 

NFU believes a national, mandatory carbon emission cap and trade system must

meet these core principles: USDA is granted control and administration of the agriculture offset program; early actors are recognized; no artificial cap is placed on domestic offsets; carbon sequestration rates are based upon science; and producers are permitted to stack environmental benefit credits.

 

Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee, says unfortunately the legislation follows the House-passed bill down the path of higher energy costs, job losses and economic pain for no benefit.

 

"Further, it would only hurt farmers, ranchers and forest landowners and provide them no opportunity to recoup the higher costs they will pay for energy and the other inputs necessary to work the land," Chambliss said. "I cannot support this bill."

 

Meanwhile, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis says his organization supports the common sense solution inserted in the House version of the bill by Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to fix what is an unfair and inequitable international land-use change penalty being proposed against domestic ethanol and other biofuels.

Reaction is Mixed to Boxer-Kerry Bill

Reaction is Mixed to Boxer-Kerry Bill

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson is critical of the draft climate change and energy legislation introduced by Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. and John Kerry, D-Mass. Johnson says the language fails to address the unique role agriculture can play. He says the language in the Boxer-Kerry bill fails to address several key provisions supported by the NFU.

 

NFU believes a national, mandatory carbon emission cap and trade system must

meet these core principles: USDA is granted control and administration of the agriculture offset program; early actors are recognized; no artificial cap is placed on domestic offsets; carbon sequestration rates are based upon science; and producers are permitted to stack environmental benefit credits.

 

Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., Ranking Member of the Senate Ag Committee, says unfortunately the legislation follows the House-passed bill down the path of higher energy costs, job losses and economic pain for no benefit.

 

"Further, it would only hurt farmers, ranchers and forest landowners and provide them no opportunity to recoup the higher costs they will pay for energy and the other inputs necessary to work the land," Chambliss said. "I cannot support this bill."

 

Meanwhile, Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis says his organization supports the common sense solution inserted in the House version of the bill by Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to fix what is an unfair and inequitable international land-use change penalty being proposed against domestic ethanol and other biofuels.

Senate is Moving Forward on Heatlh Care Reform

Senate is Moving Forward on Heatlh Care Reform

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 23 to 0 to accept an amendment submitted by Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to adjust what Medicare pays doctors for practice costs in rural states. The Grassley amendment requires the federal government to improve the accuracy of the data it uses to factor in physicians' practice costs in determining Medicare payments. Now, the government uses an outdated formula that uses proxies instead of actual costs.

 

Under the current formula, employee wages are based on only a few occupations: nurses, clerical personnel and technicians. Other employees don't count. Office rent is based on Housing and Urban Development apartment rental data that doesn't have any connection with the cost of office space.

 

The Grassley amendment requires the Department of Health and Human Services to analyze, evaluate, and make appropriate adjustments to ensure accurate, geographic adjustments of payments around the country. The changes would be effective as of January 2012, with a two-year transition period during which time states would benefit from a higher adjustment.

 

The Finance Committee also agreed through unanimous consent to support legislation introduced by Grassley and Senator Jim Bunning, R-Ky. The legislation would require members of Congress and congressional staff to access health insurance through the exchange that would be created by the health care reform legislation under consideration by the Finance Committee. Currently, members of Congress and their staffs participate in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. Grassley explained his reasoning behind the legislation saying that having Members of Congress participate in the exchange is consistent with his long-held view that Congress should live under the same laws it passes for the rest of the country.

 

Although those two amendments were passed, the Finance Committee has twice defeated efforts to create a government-run insurance plan. The two votes on amendments to create a public option were defeated by votes of 15 to 8 and 13 to 10.

 

Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont, was one of three Democrats who voted no on both proposals. Baucus said he supports the principle of a public option as an alternative to private insurance. But he warned that including it could doom the bill to a Republican filibuster. He said no one has been able to show him how to count up to 60 votes with a public option.

 

Debate on a public option is expected to continue. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could include a government plan when he combines the Finance Committee's bill with Senate Health Committee legislation approved in July that includes a public option. Reid predicts that floor debate on a health care overhaul will begin Tuesday, Oct. 13 and the first roll-call vote will be later that same day. Reid shortened the normal Columbus Day Break to accommodate the extra time needed to work on health care legislation.