American Agri-Women Webinar: “The Developing Dynamics of Agricultural and Rural Policy in the 114th Congress”

Rural policy can be a complicated topic that some think can only fully be understood by insiders. Not true, says American Agri-Women. The group is launching its new U.S. Government Affairs webinar series to help everyone better understand today’s most important rural topics.

“As agriculture gets more complicated, the stakes get higher for those who farm, ranch or work in ag-related fields. We can’t be bystanders and let others decide what’s best. We want to help producers, consumers and others better understand the issues, so they can take an active role in shaping policy,” says Doris Mold, AAW’s first vice president of resolutions and vital issues. AAW is the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agri-business women. The organization is celebrating 40 years of advocating for agriculture and empowering women in agriculture. The first in a three-part webinar series is set for 1 p.m. Central on Thursday, March 19.

The topic: “The Developing Dynamics of Agricultural and Rural Policy in the 114th Congress.” The host is David Ladd, President of RDL & Associates. Ladd has extensive federal public policy experience will cover the makeup of the 114th Congress, overview of Senate and House agriculture committees, issues remaining from the 113th Congress, dynamics of change, stakeholders impacting agriculture and rural policy.

Please register at:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

About American Agri-Women AAW is the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agribusiness women and includes members from more than 50 state, commodity and agribusiness affiliates. Since 1974, AAW members have worked together to educate consumers; advocate for agriculture; and offer networking and professional development opportunities. Go to the AAW web site for more information and to join, Find AAW on social media at: and (@Women4Ag).


American Agri-Women: Lynn Woolf, VP of Communications,, 316-648-3717

Advanced Biofuels calls for revisions to RFS (via The Hagstrom Report)

The Advanced Biofuels Association today called on Congress to make changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard, breaking unity within the renewable fuels industry on maintenance of the current RFS. I am announcing today that ABFA, at the instruction of our members, will actively seek to reform the program,” ABFA President Michael McAdams said today in a speech to the group’s leadership conference in Washington.

“We call on Congress, which has studied these issues for two years and held numerous hearings, to step up and pass the fixes I have outlined. We believe that if Congress enacts these changes, then the investment community will have the certainty necessary to finance continued development of the advanced and cellulosic industry,” McAdams added.

“Today, members of the Advanced Biofuels Association are facing incredible challenges, including diminishing capital markets, an uncertain tax code, and a patch-quilt of state laws and federal regulations,” he said. “Unfortunately, the Renewable Fuels Standard — the very tool that was created to foster our industry — has become one of the greatest obstacles to continued development of the advanced and cellulosic biofuel industry due to inconsistent and poor implementation.”

Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents ethanol plant builders and managers, said in a news release that the proposal is shortsighted.

“By opening up the RFS for legislative changes, you are opening a can of worms that will only create further uncertainty for the industry, which is the last thing biofuel producers of any kind need,” Buis said.

“This is a shortsighted proposal that would set the entire renewable fuels industry on the path to a rollback of the RFS,” he said. “By opening up the Clean Air Act, the end results could be far more disastrous for renewable fuel companies, given the oil companies’ resistance to complying with the RFS.

“The simple fact is that first-generation fuels, such as corn-based ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, are inextricably linked, and this proposal completely ignores that competitive commercialization in the future is likely to remain tied to the grain ethanol industry to capture the economic synergies of supply chains, co-production and marketing,” Buis added.

YouTube Video: GMO Labeling (via Linder Farm Network)

Lynn Ketelsen with the Linder Farm Network recently interviewed Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates regarding GMO labeling.  The video can be accessed here:

For additional information, please contact RDL & Associates at (651) 247-5458 or via

Federal GMO Labeling Bill Garners Support (via Genetic Literacy Project)

Could the United States have nationwide GMO labeling after all? And why aren’t anti-GMO activists happy about the potential for a country-wide standard?

“Labeling” has been the clarion call to mobilize advocacy groups that have managed to place labeling initiatives on three state ballots (California, Washington and Oregon, where the measure lost by less than 900 votes in a recount), and have tried to introduce labeling laws on a local and federal level. Most pro-labeling initiative supporters appeared to be interested in posting a prominent “warning” type of label, instead of an insert in a food’s list of ingredients, which is the type of label used most commonly in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Industry representatives, many farmers, scientists and many independent minders consumers felt that an implied warning label had more to do with peddling fear and promoting organic foods than with dressing the public’s “right to know.”

So, when a Republican Congressman from Kansas introduced a bill last year proposing voluntary GMO labeling, it was the anti-GMO activists who swung into action, accusing “Big Food” of influencing Congress to loosen state and local labeling laws. The bill, H.R. 4432, went quietly into committee, where it has remained ever since.

But the languishing bill is unexpectedly getting support from a surprising area: growers, who are increasingly frustrated with a patchwork of different labeling rules that they fear could emerge in different parts of the country.

If passed, the bill would supersede any state and local labeling efforts with a national labeling law, regulated and enforced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. If passed as is, any food that contains a genetically modified element would have to be reviewed by the FDA. The manufacturer would have to submit a pre-market notification to the FDA, as well as safety data, through the agency’s existing voluntary consultation process for biotech foods.

Anti-GMO groups almost habitually seize on the word “voluntary,” implying that growers and manufacturers wouldn’t have to comply with any new safety or labeling requirements. Although companies currently do not have to submit safety data to the FDA on foods that include genetically modified ingredients, that supposed “gap” in regulations is more technical than real; no company has dared not submit safety data to the FDA.

The bill would mark the first time GMO labeling was regulated on the federal level. It would require labeling only if the FDA found “a material difference between a food produced from, containing, or consisting of a bioengineered organism and its comparable marketed food and that disclosure of such difference is necessary to protect health and safety.” Using genetic modification techniques would not itself justify a label.

So, where do growers come down on this issue? Most growers and manufacturers have been opposed to labeling on the grounds that there is no scientific basis for safety concerns, and labeling might fan unnecessary fears about GM crops and food.

There is some discussion that the failed attempts at passing statewide ballot initiatives as well as the flurry of bills introduced in various states and in Congress may provide impetus for a compromise of sorts between growers, manufacturers and the less radical groups who support GMO labeling. Better a law you don’t like but can live with, than no law or chaos.

Groups such as the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association have taken up the banner in favor of H.R. 4432. And the North Dakota state senate recently urged that Congress take up the bill and pass it. The Wisconsin Corn Growers stated they’re in favor of an overall federal standard, so farmers and manufacturers won’t have to confront a wide variety of local regulations.

Supporters of the legislation said the bill also could open the door to more dialogue between scientists, growers and the public on the safety, usability and ethical issues surrounding genetic modification of crops and livestock. Which could be a good thing, or not so good if the rancorous divide that now dominates the public discussion deepens.

Meanwhile, the American Soybean Association also has weighed in on the bill, urging its passage in the wake of two failed GMO labeling ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon. The group, representing farmers handling the nation’s second-largest food commodity, which is nearly entirely genetically modified in the United States, warned against further statewide and local initiatives that could complicate growing and distribution.

In North Dakota, the state Senate Agricultural Committee passed a resolution last month urging Congress to pass H.R. 4432. The lawmakers also recommended a new nationwide standard for reviewing and labeling genetically modified food.

Whether this recent show of support from a surprising source will help move the bill from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee to the floor is not yet known, as opposition from Democrats and some Republicans who lean towards mandatory labeling requirements remains strong. What’s also not known is whether its passage would truly prevent more statewide ballot initiatives or louder calls for warning labels on food.

Andrew Porterfield is a writer, editor and communications consultant for academic institutions, companies and non-profits in the life sciences.

Small ethanol plants struggle for an edge (via Minneapolis StarTribune)

– On a cold winter day, white mist swirls above the smallest ethanol plant in Minnesota — a sign that it’s back in business.

Built two decades ago at the dawn of Minnesota’s ethanol industry, the plant in the past four years has been idled, mothballed and restarted — only to be shut down again as it stumbled through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

Now, a new owner has it running once more, and is confronting a core problem facing small plants in an era of larger, efficient ethanol producers. “The economics don’t work,” said Joe Winckler, an ethanol industry veteran who manages Buffalo Lake Advanced Biofuels.

It’s a persistent challenge in the industry. Most vintage ethanol plants, including Buffalo Lake, expanded over the years, but that isn’t always enough to stay competitive. Now, some of the smallest are looking to new technologies — and new products — to stay alive.

“It’s innovate or die,” said Randall Doyal, chairman of the Renewable Fuels Association and chief executive of Claremont, Minn.-based Al-Corn Clean Fuel, one of the state’s first ethanol plants. “There is a lot of competition out there. If you stop trying to grow or innovate, you are really dying.”

Winckler said it’s hard to make a profit on older ethanol plants with a capacity less than 40 million gallons per year. The Buffalo Lake plant, which restarted last October, can produce 18 million gallons annually, he said.

With Wall Street financing and Midwestern innovation, the Buffalo Lake plant is taking short- and long-term steps to survive. It temporarily turned away from corn, and has instead been fermenting ethanol from cheap, government-surplus sugar.

When the plant resumes corn-based production this year, it will be the first ethanol producer to apply an energy-saving technology from Yield and Capacity Group (YCG) of Clear Lake, Iowa, that promises to cut electric and natural gas bills by more than $800,000 annually.

“It is a huge savings,” said Jed Latkin, CFO of West Ventures, an affiliate of Platinum Partners, the New York hedge fund that was a lender to the Buffalo Lake plant, but ended up owning it after the plant’s 2012 bankruptcy. Latkin said the fund has invested $28 million in the plant.

The new technology, called Low Energy Separation System, eliminates equipment traditionally used to dry grains left after distilling. Every corn-ethanol plant sells distillers’ grains as cattle feed. Even a small plant like Buffalo Lake produces 60,000 tons of feed a year, and drying the material is a big expense.

“You are using all this extra energy and heat,” said Mike LoCascio, co-founder of YCG, which developed the polymer-based water-separation technology. “The heat destroys amino acids and proteins. Since we are not using any heat, the feed has more digestible energy for the animal.”

Innovate or fail

The Buffalo Lake plant, 80 miles west of the Twin Cities, was built with farmer investment during the first wave of ethanol plant construction in the mid-1990s. In the early days, it was one of nine plants that produced just 15 million gallons of ethanol per year or less.

Over the next decade, larger plants were built and the early ones expanded. Four of Minnesota’s 21 ethanol plants now can pump out 100 million gallons or more per year. The nation’s largest is Minnetonka-based Cargill’s 195-million-gallon-a-year ethanol plant in Blair, Neb.

Most Minnesota plants have a capacity of 50 million gallons per year or less. Two of the small plants — in Luverne and Little Falls — have looked beyond ethanol to stay competitive.

In December, British biotech company Green Biologics purchased the ethanol plant in Little Falls that produces 21 million gallons per year, and will shift production in 2016 to renewable chemicals after a $60 million to $70 million upgrade. It will process corn with bacteria, rather than yeast, to make normal butanol, also called n-butanol, and acetone. They are used in paints, adhesives, cosmetics and other products.

“It is not an expansion,” said Tim Staub, vice president for business development. “We will be leveraging the existing fermenters, which will be modified. … We also are putting in a lot of advanced product recovery and distillation equipment.”

Yet the shift to new technologies can be risky. Gevo Inc., based in Englewood, Colo., has struggled for more than two years to produce isobutanol — a higher-value alcohol that can be used as fuel or a chemical ingredient — at the Luverne plant. Amid slow progress last year, the company resumed making ethanol in part of the plant, and in January cut 23 headquarters employees to save money.

Larry Johnson, a Cologne, Minn., ethanol consultant who helped raise capital for early plants, said it has long been an industry goal to transform ethanol plants into multi-product biorefineries. He expects such efforts to continue, even if some fail.

“We are replacing some petroleum-based plastics and chemicals with products from biomass,” Johnson said.

Experiment with biodiesel

In another push beyond ethanol, Al-Corn, the 45-million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant in Claremont, is expanding into biodiesel.

Biodiesel has long been made from soybean oil, although industrial corn oil produced at ethanol plants is an increasingly common raw material. By law, biodiesel is blended with regular diesel at rates of 5 percent to 10 percent in Minnesota.

Doyal, Al-Corn’s chief executive, said the farmer-owned plant still will make ethanol, but this spring will add a modular biodiesel production unit recently developed by Revolution Fuels of St. Louis Park. Corn oil produced by Al-Corn will be turned into biodiesel on site.

It is the first commercial deployment of Revolution Fuels’ proprietary technology. It fits in a unit about the size of two shipping containers, and is tailored for small to midsize ethanol plants, said Ronni Phillips, Revolution Fuels’ vice president for business development. The process will use a little of Al-Corn’s ethanol, replacing another alcohol commonly used in biodiesel production, she said.

Changing ethanol investment

One reason for the interest in non-ethanol investments is that U.S. supplies of corn-based biofuel currently exceed the demand. While the market is sure to change, the current slim profit margins in the ethanol business make it a risk to expand production.

“It is probably going to be a losing proposition,” said David Peters, an Iowa State professor of rural sociology who has studied the economics of ethanol plant upgrades.

Poet Inc., the nation’s No. 2 ethanol producer with four Minnesota plants, has in the past two decades upgraded all of its 27 plants. Most recently, it has focused on investments that reduce water and energy use, said James Moe, president of design and construction and plant management for the Sioux Falls-based company.

“These plants are more efficient than they have ever been,” Moe added. “They have had to incorporate efficiency improvements over time just due to the level of competition in the industry. What that has really done is driven a lot of efficiency in the industry that wasn’t there eight or ten years ago.”

Large producers have some built-in advantages. Poet constructed, manages and co-owns plants with local investors, and does research and development. Its business model allows it to try new technologies in one or two plants before deploying them widely, Moe said.

Poet and the nation’s largest ethanol maker, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), also have a size advantage when marketing their products. Smaller ethanol plants are combining efforts to to copy that approach. Renewable Products Marketing Group, a Shakopee-based company owned by smaller ethanol makers, now sells 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol per year, the second largest marketer behind ADM, Doyal said.

At Buffalo Lake, the push to stay competitive directly affects 33 employees whose jobs are at stake. Latkin, of West Ventures, said preserving jobs has always been a concern of the New York hedge fund.

“Unlike an investor who comes in and seeks to break up or send things overseas, our role has always been in the different deals we’ve done to foster local growth, build businesses and see them thrive and survive,” Latkin said.

David Shaffer • 612-673-7090 Twitter: @ShafferStrib