Responses to attacks on ethanol industry

Farm Forum

Included on the previous page is an article on ethanol provided by the Associated Press. Additional stories have run in the daily newspapers across the state. In those stories, officials in the ethanol industry were not provided an opportunity to respond to the allegations. Here are some local comments:

“I knew from some emails that the story from the Associated Press on ethanol was coming,” said Tom Hitchcock of Redfield Energy. “Ethanol is always going to get some negative press from big oil. There are counter answers, but it’s hard to refute once headlines are made.”

“All I can say, I’ve been here since Redfield Energy started 2007,” he said. “Ethanol has been good for the economy and great to add an outlet for our grains. Before ethanol, farmers had to rely on the government and got price subsidies for what they raised. Most farmers want to make marketing decisions for themselves, and would rather not take subsidies. Another point is that one-third of the corn used in ethanol is put back into livestock, in the form of dried distillers grain. Ethanol has been good for the U.S., and good for those driving cars. If we didn’t have the additional fuel from ethanol, prices to fill up our vehicles would be higher. ”

Farmers are raising more corn and soybeans, and in general, those are crops with higher values. A lot of farming practices have changed, more for the good of the environment, Hitchcock noted. “Farmers are using more no-till practices. They want to conserve fuel plus they value the ground. Producers want to reduce wear and tear on the ground. I believe the story by the Associated Press was more a blast at farmers than at the ethanol industry.”

Right now consumers are enjoying a 10 percent savings at the gas pump due to ethanol. Hitchcock said that more and more ethanol will be used. It takes time. There probably won’t be any more corn-ethanol plants built, but other renewable fuels such as cellulosic and bio fuels will be added.

“These stories come out, and much like a football team, you sometimes have to have a thick skin and continue doing what you know is right,” Hitchcock said. “Ethanol added billions to our state’s economy and added a nice sliver of the pie to farmers. All we can do is fight the best fight we can. We are creating a renewable, environmentally clean fuel. It is not a depletable resource. If the renewable fuel standard were slashed, it would be harmful for farmers and consumers.”

James A. Seurer, Chief Executive Officer of Glacial Lakes Energy, knew the story was coming but didn’t think it portrayed responsible journalism.

“I think the story was presented in a very melodramatic fashion, and those who wrote it are out of touch with rural America,” Seurer said. “The sensational journalism exaggerate factors to the extreme. It paints our landowners as irresponsible. Producing ethanol gives us an opportunity to wean ourselves away from oil. We don’t know the additional environmental costs of the horror stores we’re hearing relating to drilling for oil in western North Dakota.”

The ethanol industry used 4.8 billion bushels of corn on a gross basis in 2012, valued at more than $33 billion. There are many issues out there and attacks will continue on ethanol. Seurer noted that corn is now 1/2 the price of what it was last year, and yet prices in restaurants have not come down. Seurer said big fuel will keep pounding until they get the Renewable Fuel Standard eliminated. That would have a huge impact and all who use fuel would suffer.

Those in the industry are working on trying to set the record straight, but once a lie is told that grabs headlines, it’s hard to turn opinions around, Seurer said.

“The story incorrectly blames biofuels for the loss of conservation,” said South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke said. “There are numerous factors that have led to the depletion of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the most important of which is the failure of Congress to adequately support and fund conservation programs in the farm bill.”

Both the House-passed and Senate-passed farm bills cut the conservation title by $4.8 billion and $3.5 billion, respectively. Both versions would also decrease CRP enrollment from 32 million to 24 or 25 million acres nationwide, a cut of over 7 million acres.

“Conservation should be a top priority in the farm bill, but it is always the first to be cut,” said Sombke. “Farmers and ranchers are the best stewards of their land, but they also need to support their family on the land that they do have. Without strong conservation programs in the farm bill and support from Congress, a farmer and rancher can only do so much.”

Sombke said that biofuels and conservation practices can work together.

“Biofuels are not a part of the problem, they are part of the solution,” said Sombke. “Biofuels are a clear alternative to oil that can be grown locally, support our rural economies, and clean up the environment. Cellulosic ethanol production also has the potential to supplement and integrate with current conservation practices.”

The American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Executive Vice President Brian Jennings says, “At best, the AP article is lazy journalism, but at worst, it appears purposefully designed to damage the ethanol industry. There was an incredibly reckless disregard for the truth in the handiwork of this hit-piece. AP has been promoting this story by bragging about the number of reporters involved and AP’s connections in all 50 states, and yet that army of reporters missed or ignored a number of errors that could have been easily checked and avoided. From small errors, to big errors like indicating corn is being grown on ‘virgin lands’ for ethanol production – something that is specifically prohibited by the Renewable Fuel Standard, the article is clearly less concerned with accuracy than it is maligning ethanol.”

“Ethanol isn’t some public figure, abstraction, or government program that can be maligned without consequence,” added ACE’s Jennings. “Ethanol is a real product, manufactured by real businesses, many owned by farmers, and those businesses provide thousands of good jobs and billions of gallons of clean, affordable, domestic renewable fuel to real people. They deserve to be protected from media that is helping spread lies about the ethanol industry by recklessly disregarding the truth. AP needs to correct the errors in this story or pull it and investigate how the story was created.”