October 21, 2014

Push for more use of E-85 as ethanol industry faces obstacles

State and agriculture officials are pushing for the expansion of bio-fuel use in Nebraska even as the industry attempts to weather a couple of obstacles.

Oil prices have dropped, bringing the price of gas closer to the break-even point for ethanol profitability. More oil is being produced domestically as well, which hold prices down.

Nebraska Ethanol Board Executive Director Todd Sneller says the key for profitability in the ethanol industry is to sell higher blends such as E-85.

“We’ve got to continue to use the capacity that is in place. That’s an under-utilized capacity and that is forcing producers to export ethanol. That simply doesn’t make any sense from a public policy standpoint,” Sneller tells reporters during a conference all. “We ought to be sure that the federal government is providing a pathway through the renewable fuel standard to hold oil refineries’ feet to the fire and make sure that they meet the standards that was set by the Congress in 2007.”

As Sneller noted, the government also plays a big role in the ethanol industry. A change in the renewable fuel standard for the nation’s gasoline supply would have a huge impact on ethanol producers.

State Agriculture Director Greg Ibach says that even the uncertainty of whether the federal government will relax the renewable fuel standard has hurt. Ibach says those wishing to invest in

cellulosic ethanol production, the so-called second generation of ethanol production, are worried.

“A lot of those people who were thinking about investing in those plants for the next generation have pulled back those dollars and put those plans on hold, because they’re concerned that if the federal government doesn’t hold true on its word to starch ethanol producers that they can’t rely on them to continue to be there for them as they move into the next generation of ethanol production,” according to Ibach.

While corn is the leading crop used to make ethanol, cellulosic feed stocks, such as crop residue or wood residue, hold promise for ethanol production.

Nebraska has 86 E-85 gas pumps. More are coming on line. A new smart phone app will help Nebraskans located their nearest E-85 pump.

For more information about ethanol, do go nebraskacorn.org as well as ne-ethanol.org. E-85 pumps in Omaha can be found by clicking on this website: E85Omaha.com.

“Father” of GMOs says opponents are a minority, extremists

WheatThe debate over genetically modified organisms — or GMOs — in food has been heating up in Nebraska and nationwide in recent months.

Robert Fraley, a top researcher at crop-seed maker Monsanto, is often referred to as “the father of agricultural biotechnology.”

Fraley says he’s convinced opponents of GMOs represent a small percentage of consumers.

“Those are extreme voices,” Fraley says. “As I travel and talk to audiences, the vast majority of people are in the middle.”

Fraley estimates 70 to 80% of Americans believe genetically modified foods are safe.

The latest issue of National Geographic features a cover story about the role of genetics in food production.

Dennis Dimick, executive environment editor at the magazine, says biotechnology is critical to solving the problem of feeding nine-billion people — the world’s estimated population by 2050.

Dimick says, “In a world where we need to improve productivity, things like drought, salt, and heat tolerant crops are so important and should be allowed to happen, even if they do involve the use of genetic engineering.”

In November, voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide if manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers should be required to label foods produced entirely or partially by genetic engineering.

In recent years, similar measures in California and in Washington state were narrowly rejected after millions of dollars were spent by Monsanto and other labeling opponents to defeat the campaigns.


Former NDEQ Director raises questions about “Waters of US” proposal (AUDIO)

A former director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality says the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to fix something that isn’t broken in its controversial proposal to expand the Clean Water Act.

Former NDEQ Director Mike Linder has analyzed the EPA move to update the Clean Water Act, called “Waters of the United States” on behalf of Common Sense Nebraska, a group opposed to the change.

“So, the first part of my summary is they’re trying to fix the 404, the federal program, and I think they’ve broadened the jurisdiction and I don’t think they’ve really fixed it very well,” Linder tells reporters on a conference call.

Section 404 covers the wetlands permit program operated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

Linder, an attorney with Koley Jessen of Omaha, says currently the Corps determines on a case-by-case basis which rivers, streams, creeks, and ponds are covered by the Clean Water Act and which are exempt from regulation. He says the EPA effort to define those bodies of water is problematic.

The change also would affect programs traditionally overseen by the states.

Linder says the change could encroach on those state-run programs that have operated under a cooperative federalism since the Clean Water Act became law in the early 1970s. In Nebraska, the state works with farmers and livestock producers on compliance.

“If I were a producer I would be a little bit confused as to how this would impact my operation,” Linder says. “And if I had had an exemption or other decision by the state agency that now could be changed by this definition, I would want to have that clarification made.”

Linder speculates the change could also extend EPA’s regulator power to groundwater, which hasn’t been subject to regulation under the Clean Water Act. The EPA has stated it does not have jurisdiction over groundwater, but Linder says some definitions need to be revised to clearly indicate that.

Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water with the EPA, Ken Kopocis, denied the proposed changes would extend the EPA’s reach onto the farm.

“We believe that the proposed rule would cover fewer waters than what the current rule covers. So, we do not believe that we’re expanding jurisdiction,” Kopocis told Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview from this Washington, D.C. office in August.

Linder, responding to a question about Kopocis’ statement, says he couldn’t see how the proposed expansion would not broaden the reach of the EPA.

Linder says he would prefer EPA withdraw the proposal and work to better enforce current law.

“So, I don’t know, they’re trying to fix something that’s not broken with the other programs.”

EPA is accepting public comment on the proposed rule through November14th.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau is encouraging comments opposed to the rule change be posted on ditchtherule.fb.org.

PDF of Linder analysis of EPA proposal

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

USDA to survey Nebraska farmers on chemical use

SoybeansA sample of Nebraska corn growers will soon be asked to report on their use of pesticides and fertilizer.

The Agricultural Resource Management Survey is conducted on different crops each year and 2014 is a corn year.

Greg Thessen, the regional director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service, says once the data is collated and released to the public, it’s a tool policymakers can use to evaluate proposed changes.

Thessen says, “This provides a good source of information for them to take a look at see, okay, if they change a policy what impact is that going to have on farmers and how they grow crops or corn in particular.”

Thessen says several hundred Nebraska farmers will be polled for this year’s corn survey. The information gathered will be released in public reports beginning next May.

Thessen says the survey gives farmers a chance to tell the government how they grow their crops.

He says, “What kind of inputs it takes as far as fertilizer and pesticides go, as well as any pest management practices, and really show other people that may not be involved with agriculture how they are good stewards of the land.”

Thessen says selected farmers will receive a notice in the mail and then a USDA employee will visit the farmer to record detailed information about the use of chemical inputs.

He says one use is for the Environmental Protection Agency to see whether products are being used according to their labels.


Bridge repairs & unfunded mandates among top issues for county leaders

County leaders from across the state will gather in Kearney this week for the annual legislative conference of the Nebraska Association of County Officials.

Executive director Larry Dix says several issues are on the agenda, including the zoning debate that’s underway in the state.

“There’s a number of reports that are somewhat concerning in the number of head of livestock that we have,” Dix says. “There’s been some recent discussion about some dairies looking at the state of Nebraska. We just want to have a conversation about our zoning regulations. Are they adequate, are they what they should be?”

Dix says there will be a presentation about the effects the EPA’s proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule would have on county road maintenance. He says the association has also compiled its platform and legislative priorities.

“We’ve been working very hard on unfunded mandates and looking for additional funding for bridge repairs,” Dix says. “Unfunded mandates is one of those where both of the candidates that are running for governor have openly talked about it and said we’ve got to do something as it relates to property tax.”

An engineering consultant for several counties estimates the cost to replace or upgrade all substandard bridges in Nebraska could exceed $2 billion.

Dix says they’ll also discuss fiscal notes and the counties’ role in making sure the state understands the impacts of state policy on local government. The conference will be held Thursday in Kearney.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton