IRFA Testifies at Senate Ag Subcommittee Hearing

irfa-shaw-hearingIowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) Executive Director Monte Shaw recently testified before the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. The hearing focused on USDA Rural Development Programs and their economic impact across the country. Shaw said during his testimony that properly supporting renewable fuels programs are vital to the well-being of rural America.

“I think it can be fairly stated that no other effort to improve rural economies made the impact that renewable fuels did,” Shaw testified. “Then, in late 2013, the Obama Administration proposed Renewable Fuel Standard levels far below statutory levels. The economic fallout was predictable and painful. The last two years have seen a dramatic downturn in the health of rural America. Corn prices plummeted, land values fell, farm income plunged, and agribusinesses laid off workers by the thousands.”

Shaw highlighted several Energy Title programs under the Farm Bill, including the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels, the Renewable Energy for America Program and others, that have provided strong returns on investment. “However, the effectiveness of these programs is reduced by a lack of consistent and timely funding.”

Shaw also asked the Senate leaders to support other programs outside the Farm Bill that can boost rural economies. “The Renewable Fuel Standard, the USDA’s Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership, and equalizing vapor pressure treatment for E10 and E15 are all additional programs you can support that are vital to the well-being of rural America.”

USDA Reports Positive for #Corn Supplies

USDAThe 2016 Prospective Plantings report out today from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) shows farmers expect to plant more corn than expected this year.

U.S. corn growers expect to plant 93.6 million acres to corn this year, the first increase in corn planted acreage since 2012 and, if realized, will be the third largest corn acreage since 1944. Farmers in 41 out of the 48 states expect to either maintain or increase the number of acres they plant to corn. Growers in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and North Dakota expect to increase their corn acreage by 400,000 or more acres in 2016. Assuming the five-year average 91.3 percent harvest rate and the projected 25-year trend yield of 165.4 bushels per acre is achieved, farmers will harvest 14.13 billion bushels, nearing the production record of 14.2 billion bushels set in 2014, according to the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

In addition, the new grain stocks report increases corn stocks in all positions as of March 1 by one percent compared to this time last year. Stocks totaled 7.81 billion bushels and of the that, 4.34 billion bushels were stored on farms, down 1 percent from a year earlier. Off-farm stocks, at 3.47 billion bushels, are up 3 percent from a year ago.

“U.S. farmers produced an abundant crop in 2015. Given the strong carryover entering this growing season, we may see quite a large corn supply at harvest should weather prove favorable in 2016,” said NCGA President Chip Bowling. “While many factors may change the reality on the ground as planting progresses, American corn supplies should remain ample for the year to come. Given the impact this continues to have on prices, the work being done at NCGA to grow demand will prove even more important as we work to find markets for our product and remain profitable into the future.”

Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president and CEO Bob Dinneen says the planting intentions show that American farmers are continuing to hold up their end of the deal when it comes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). “They’ve made the investments and planting decisions necessary to provide adequate supplies of grain to meet all demands, including the feedstock needed to produce the 15 billion gallons of ethanol required in 2016 under the RFS statute,” commented Dinneen. “But by slashing the RFS requirements for 2016 below statutory levels, the Administration isn’t honoring its commitment to our nation’s farmers and is contributing to great economic uncertainty in the agriculture sector.”

Dinneen adds that the report underscores the importance of getting the RFS back on track and growing corn demand.

USDA Secretary Visits #RFANEC Again

nec16-vilsack-bobAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack visited the National Ethanol Conference for the last time in the position he has held under President Obama for both terms.

During his appearance, Vilsack announced some good news for the ethanol industry – new research showing significant improvement in ethanol production efficiency.

“This study we just published today looks at the ratio of the energy used to produce a gallon of ethanol and the energy that it creates, and the ratio has improved significantly,” said Vilsack.

According to the study, between 1991 and 2010, direct energy use in corn production has dropped by 46 percent per bushel of corn produced and total energy use per bushel of corn by 35 percent. Moreover, between 2005 and 2010, direct energy use fell by 25 percent and the total energy use by 8.2 percent per bushel—meaning that between 2005 and 2010, the energy required per bushel of corn produced dropped by about 5 percent.

“The bottom line is, today, more energy is being produced from ethanol than is used to produce it, by factors of 2 to 1 nationally and by factors of 4 to 1 in the Midwest. There are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the bio-economy and the role biofuels and advanced biofuels will play in that future, and I am confident this administration has acted aggressively to expand the groundwork to support that brighter future,” Vilsack said.

Listen to Vilsack’s address to the NEC here: USDA Secretary Vilsack at NEC16

Vilsack answers press questions on Cuba, FFVs, ethanol efficiency and more – Sec'y Vilsack NEC press avail

2016 National Ethanol Conference Photo Album

Energy in the Budget Proposal

2017-budgetAs promised, energy was a focus of President Obama’s 2017 budget proposal, officially unveiled on Tuesday, with a promise to “move our economy away from energy sources that fuel climate change.”

The budget provides for $7.7 billion in discretionary funding for clean energy research and development across 12 agencies, including $106 million for USDA to “support development of biobased energy sources that range from sustainable and economical forest systems and farm products to increased production of biofuels.”

According to USDA, the budget proposal includes a $25 million increase in competitive research funding to support development of biobased energy sources and earmarks $450 million for the Rural Energy for America Program to assist agricultural producers and rural small businesses in developing renewable energy systems, energy efficiency improvements, and renewable energy development through loans and grants.
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Penn State to Turn ‘Scrub’ Trees into Biomass Fuel

PennStateextResearchers at Penn State University are looking at turning a tree seen as not much more than a weed into biomass. This article from the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, the school’s hometown, says researchers are working on a $10 million, 5-year project, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to grow shrub willow as the next great biofuel feedstock.

On the the edge of a cornfield just off Interstate 99 between State College and Bellefonte, researchers planted 34 acres of shrub willow in 2012 and sat back to wait. After one early harvest, Armen Kemanian, assistant professor of production systems and modeling, said he and his team waited three years for the plants to grow enough to mow them down.

That time came this month as equipment was brought in from New York, giant harvesters that drove over the 20-foot-tall crop, not only chopping them down but grinding them into chips. Each pass of harvester turned a long row of the skinny trees into a truckload of mulchy mass.

Three years of growth are expected to produce about 800 tons, but that’s one of the things Kemanian says they are measuring. There are other places that grow shrub willow for its biomass potential, like in New York and Canada. The Penn State study is exploring how the native Eurasian crop fares a little more to the south.

“We are working out some of the kinks,” said Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources and Penn State and Kemanian’s NewBio co-chairman. “The point is, it’s very important to understand the economics. You can’t look at just one harvest and decide if it breaks even or not. There are 15 to 20 years of multiple cycles.”

The researchers say the willows planted in 2012 are expected to regenerate about seven times, leading to decades of harvesting. And it can be grown on land that wouldn’t normally support other crops.

Great Green Fleet Deployed

vilsack-navy-fleetSecretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack kicked off the Great Green Fleet with the deployment of the USS John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group (JCS CSG) during a ceremony Wednesday in California. At the end of the ceremony, the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale left the pier to begin its deployment, becoming the first U.S. Navy ship running on an alternative fuel blend as part of its regular operations.

The Great Green Fleet is a Department of the Navy initiative using energy efficiency and alternative fuels to increase combat capability and operational flexibility. “The Great Green Fleet shows how we are transforming our energy use to make us better warfighters, to go farther, stay longer, and deliver more firepower,” said Mabus. “Diversifying our energy sources arms us with operational flexibility and strengthens our ability to provide presence, turning the tables on those who would use energy as a weapon against us.”

The blend fueling the Navy ships contains alternative fuel made from waste beef fat provided by farmers in the Midwest purchased through a partnership between the Navy and USDA. “The Navy’s use of renewable energy in the Great Green Fleet represents its ability to diversify its energy sources, and also our nation’s ability to take what would be a waste product and create homegrown, clean, advanced biofuels to support a variety of transportation needs,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s deployment proves that America is on its way to a secure, clean energy future, where both defense and commercial transportation can be fueled by our own hardworking farmers and ranchers, reduce landfill waste, and bring manufacturing jobs back to rural America.”

The advanced fuel blend was produced by California-based AltAir Fuels from a feedstock of beef tallow – waste beef fat – provided by Midwest farmers and ranchers, and traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro. Pursuant to Navy requirements, the alternative fuel is drop-in, meaning it requires no changes to ship engines, transport or delivery equipment, or operational procedures.

Vilsack Featured Speaker at Nat’l Ethanol Conference

vilsackrfaU.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been named to the lineup for this year’s National Ethanol Conference. The gathering, going on Feb. 15-17 in New Orleans, is the most widely attended executive level conference for the ethanol industry. Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa, was praised by the Renewable Fuels Association as being a long-time ally of ethanol.

Vilsack is a strong proponent of ethanol, renewable fuels and American agriculture. As leader of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Vilsack is working hard to strengthen the American agricultural economy, build vibrant rural communities and create new markets for the tremendous innovation of rural America.

Other topics at the conference include, global marketing and logistics trends, ethanol’s benefits as a high octane fuel source, and much more!

More information and registration are available here.

Secy Vilsack: Continue to Tout Biofuel Benefits

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, spent the morning back in his home state of Iowa (Vilsack is a former Iowa Governor) to kick off the 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit. He began his remarks by saying its great to be back in Iowa and great to be back in front of folks who understand the importance of the renewable fuels industry. He also mentioned he is proud of the work the USDA has done to help expand the industry.

The key focus on his speech was the amount of people, both consumers and legislators, who don’t see the benefits of this industry the way we see them, who are attacking the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the courts, and attacking the Renewable Fuel Standard in the halls of Congress. “But we continue to point out to those who oppose this industry, the benefits of the country.”USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack during 10th Annual Iowa Summit

For example, the ethanol industry has helped reduce the price of gas at the pump, even as gas prices go down, and given consumers choice at the pump. He also noted biofuels benefit the farm and rural communities, and help to reduce the trade deficit.

Vilsack discussed several of the programs the USDA has implemented to help grow and improve the industry including the Biomass Assistance Program, Biomass Research Centers and Loan Guarantees. But he said he was most excited of the new markets that are being developed. He also highlighted the Farms to Fly program that is looking at producing renewable biofuels for the aviation and shipping industry as well as biofuels for our military.

We need consumers to understand that every time they go to the pump, they are helping the industry. He also stressed the importance of the blender pump program and continuing to bring more mid-level blends to consumers.

In closing, Vilsack said expanding the renewable fuels industry is more than just the benefits (choice at pump, environment, national security, etc.). “It’s really about preserving the value system of rural America. This is an industry that allows us the process of diversifying the opportunities in rural America, to support production agriculture, to expand the biobased economy…so that we have more stable farm income and we give people opportunities to live, work and raise their families in rural areas. That is important to me.”

Listen to USDA Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack’s full remarks: Vilsack Remarks During IRFA Summit

10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit Photo Album

China Imports Record Amount of US Ethanol

usda-logoU.S. ethanol exports to China hit record numbers this year. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is crediting the rise to its trade mission last year that helped push overall agricultural imports to China to three times what they were just a decade ago.

“Our objective for every trade mission is to create new markets for farm products made in rural America,” said USDA Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Michael Scuse, who led the mission. “U.S. ethanol exports to China have jumped from $8 million to more than $86 million since our May 2014 visit. In October, we exported more ethanol to China than in the previous 10 years combined.”

Scuse led the delegation to promote U.S. agriculture, and explore the role that renewable fuels might play in China’s long-term clean energy strategy. The delegation met with gasoline companies, fuel blenders, oil companies, commodity traders, and government officials to promote the benefits of using higher ethanol blends. During October, the U.S. exported 32.5 million gallons of ethanol to China, valued at $57 million, or 46 percent of total U.S. ethanol exports for the month. Previous U.S. exports of ethanol to China averaged less than $3 million annually from 2005 to 2014.

Earlier this year, USDA partnered with 21 states through the Biofuel Infrastructure Partnership (BIP) to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide, expanding the ethanol refueling infrastructure by nearly 5,000 pumps, a $210 million investment that will give consumers access to clean, American-made biofuels, and provide more choices at the pump.

“These are the kind of initiatives that strengthen our rural communities, and open new doors and help our farmers and ranchers capitalize on the tremendous export potential for American agricultural products,” said Scuse.

USDA Highlights 2015 Energy Achievements

USDAAgriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has released a list of USDA’s top achievements in 2015 in the areas of trade, food security, conservation, energy, research, rural development, and more.

“Even with challenges in 2015, including an unprecedented animal disease outbreak and lower commodity prices, America’s rural communities have proven once again that we are a nation of makers, creators and innovators, and our economy and security are stronger because of it,” said Vilsack. “As we look to 2016, USDA will continue to seek out new and innovative ways to expand opportunity for America’s farming families and rural communities.”

Among USDA’s 2015 highlights in the area of energy:

Made available $100 million in grant funds, with matching funds from state and private partners, which will provide $210 million to nearly double the number of fueling pumps nationwide that supply American-made renewable fuels, such as E15 and E85.

Through the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, USDA provided assistance to 890 growers on 49,000 acres for costs associated with harvesting and transporting agriculture or forest residues to facilities that convert biomass crops into energy.

Announced 10 Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry, which, by 2025, will reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road.

Read more here.