Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

U.S. needs a strong Renewable Fuel Standard

REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Farmers have efficiently grown more crops on less land to meet the challenges of the RFS.

As a fifth generation farmer, I see the crucial role that the American agricultural community plays in helping the entire nation to succeed every day. Hardworking farmers in the heartland of this country are benefiting others through their sacrifices, by stimulating our economy and spurring job growth in America.

America’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), under its original intent, challenges farmers and workers in the agricultural industry to produce more renewable fuel like ethanol. It calls on folks to work just a bit harder, and for good reason: More renewable fuel means our country is that much safer and less dependent on foreign oil, and we continue to see rising employment here at home rather than ship jobs overseas. The RFS also aims to decrease greenhouse gas emissions so that we, and our children, can work and play outdoors breathing cleaner air.

The renewable fuel industry powered a strong comeback in rural economies across the nation, allowing farmers to gain financial stability after economic uncertainty and downfall. Here in Minnesota, the RFS is responsible for over 48,500 jobs each year and $11.7 billion in annual economic output. And it’s not just our state that sees the benefits. The RFS drives economic output nationwide, with more than 852,000 jobs created in the country annually.

Farmers have met the challenge

Gary Pestorious
Smoot Tewes Group
Gary Pestorious

Farmers have efficiently grown more crops on less land to meet the challenges of the RFS. Advancements from America’s green innovators have allowed farmers to produce cleaner biofuels like cellulosic ethanol – the world’s cleanest motor fuel, which can be made from agricultural waste.

Unfortunately, the EPA has pulled the rug out from under America’s farmers, turning its back on what has long been this country’s economic backbone, by proposing to weaken the RFS and leave control of our renewable fuel supply in the hands of the oil industry, which wants to kill it. This hurts our rural economies and hinders farmers everywhere, after 10 years of progress.

Fewer jobs, more pollution ...

While oil industry executives line their pockets with foreign oil profits, leaving America’s farmers to foot the bill, farmers have held up their end of the deal by providing our nation with more clean, secure, American energy. But now, the EPA’s proposal threatens this progress by maintaining the oil industry’s monopoly on the transportation fuel marketplace – leaving us with fewer jobs, more pollution, and fewer choices at the pump.

The EPA must to hold up its end of the deal. We need a strong RFS to protect hardworking Americans and sustain a robust local and national economy.

Gary Pestorious of Frontier Family Farms is a fifth-generation farmer from Freeborn County, Minnesota.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.)

 

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

Comments (17)

Nonsense

Can we get past the fiction that corn ethanol is good for the environment? It not only does not reduce greenhouse gases, it is draining aquifers due to the huge water requirements and the increased production is polluting our waterways.

This is about nothing more than a handout to farmers. Ethanol means we pay more for gas in order to get worse gas mileage. Choices at the pump? I don't have a choice in Minnesota. I'm stuck buying your terrible product.

fiction

What is fiction is that it is not good for the environment. Without ethanol you would be burning more petroleum products in your fuel causing more greenhouse gasses to be released. You also have zero evidence ethanol is draining aquifers or polluting waterways. There are many other sources that are drains on aquifers and pollute waters that are far worse. Because some aquifers that ethanol plants draw out of might be lower is not a reason to be blaming them when there are many other sources drawing out of those same aquifers. Correlation does not equal causation.

The reduction in cost for ethanol blended fuel outweighs any slight reduction in mileage you might see. If you are for a strong national and local economy then you are for ethanol. Those opposed to ethanol would have our money sent straight to foreign countries weakening our economy. I'd rather back our farmers here that grow crops for clean and safe renewable fuels than oil companies any day.

Google

It took me 30 seconds on google to find dozens of different articles that contradict everything you just said. Here is an MPR article that talks about water use and water pollution.

http://www.mprnews.org/story/2006/09/07/ethanolnow

And when you factor in the entire manufacturing process, using corn ethanol actually causes more greenhouse pollution.

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/12/17/u-of-m-study-finds-ethanol-wors...

Even though oil is better for the environment than corn ethanol, its really a false choice. We need to invest in real renewables. Paying farmers to destroy the environment doesn't count.

pollution

To suggest that runoff is an ethanol problem is ignoring other uses of corn. It isn't the corn that is leaky, but the ground. It isn't ethanol's fault there is runoff in corn production. Without ethanol there would still be crop production as there was before and the runoff problem would be the same so blaming ethanol for this isn't correct. One poorly placed ethanol plants problem with the aquifer doesn't mean as a whole that ethanol plants are draining all aquifers either.

Many peer reviewed studies you conveniently ignored not run or financed by oil companies say just the opposite. It simply is not true that oil is better for the environment than ethanol. You'd be ignoring mountains of peer reviewed research if you think otherwise.

No

It is ethanol's fault that much more corn is being grown, and that increase in corn production means more runoff pollution. Eliminating ethanol would not eliminate runoff pollution, because you still need corn for food, but it absolutely would help.

And its not one poorly placed plant - its plants all over. Parts of the country are having acute water shortages, and we are wasting water on a completely useless product

The study I cited was by researchers at the U of M and was not funded by oil. Most of the contrary studies I have seen, however, were funded by agriculture interests. If there was really mountains of independent peer-reviewed research supporting corn ethanol, you'd think environmental groups would be supportive. They aren't.

yes

Again, correlation does not always equal causation. It has never been ethanols fault for how much corn is being grown. The majority of corn grown goes to livestock for feed not ethanol.

You have zero evidence of other plants running the aquifers dry. Not only that but those aquifers also have others that draw out of them that could just as easily be the cause.

Cite peer reviewed studies. Those that are peer reviewed have said ethanol is better for the environment than oil. Environmental groups have been supportive of ethanol since it is a renewable fuel.

water use

"Approximately 410 billion gallons of water are used in the U.S. every day, with nearly half used for production of electrical power or thermoelectric power generation. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the average American uses about 100 gallons of water daily.

Activities such as taking a bath requires up to 70 gallons of water. A five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons. A running toilet can waste up to 200 gallons of water daily. More than 713 gallons of water go into the production of one cotton T-shirt. The New York City water supply system leaks 36 million gallons per day. It takes 39,090 gallons of water to manufacture a new car. At one drip per second, a faucet can leak 3,000 gallons per year." http://beefmagazine.com/blog/cattle-aren-t-water-guzzlers-they-re-made-o...

Water use by ethanol production seems pretty minor to me compared to the above data and as I said, there are other uses that are responsible for aquifers being drained as shown above.

Actually

you do have a choice at the pump. Premium has no ethanol in Minnesota (thank God for that), and while the delta between regular and premium pricing is increasing, I don't mind paying (all my cars require premium), if it means I don't have to put that horrible fuel in my gas tank. Of course if you drive a car that does not require it, then it's over-kill, and a waste of money.

Sorry to disappoint you...

...but all grades of gasoline sold in Minnesota, including premium grades, contain a 10% blend of ethanol unless the pump is specifically marked as "non oxy" or "non oxygenated gasoline." You can find stations that sell this fuel, but it takes a little extra searching.

You may have been happily using E10 in your vehicles for years, Kurt.

or unhappily

Depending on how old your car is, that ethanol blend may be corroding your engine parts. I sure hope you aren't putting it in your lawnmower or snowblower.

You can get non-ethanol gas in Wisconsin, which I do when I'm there.

Not hard to find thankfully

My neighborhood full service station for instance has non oxy gas. I hold my nose when I have to use that junk fuel when non oxy is not available.

This is an industry that absent government welfare to farmers (even more ugly subsidies) for a product that is a failure. Granted there are some tuners that are getting tremendous horsepower gains using the high octane of ethanol, but (and I'm a horsepower guy) that is not enough to support a product that wastes tremendous amounts of water (not just to grow, but to process). Coupled with a decrease in mileage, and no discernible decrease in CO2 emissions all add up to - why not just keep using petroleum. Well other than to give farmers a handout, and the industry too.

emissions

http://farmprogress.com/story-ghg-model-expects-negative-air-quality-eff...

Negative air quality effects are expected with lower use of ethanol. People love to pick and choose when it comes to science and environment. You've stated that ethanol wastes water but have cited no source or comparison to oil at all.

There's

sure

I'm not sure if you even read what you linked to since it does not compare emissions from ethanol to gas. You're argument was that using oil for gas would be better than ethanol and this study doesn't support that statement nor does it even compare the two.

Market distortion

The current government policies are destroying the market in a negative way. We have so much corn that it's getting dumped into every food product I'm the form of high fructose corn syrup just to dispose of it. Sugar cane is also a much more efficient way to produce ethanol, and corn is one of the worst ways. It also takes huge amounts of energy (including tractors burning oil) to make ethanol so there may be a net increase in greenhouse gasses. Overall, pet the market sort it out will lead to greater efficiency.

Sorry, Joe, but...

I've been reading your staunch defense of every criticism of "contemporary agricultural practices" for months now, and while I appreciate your zeal, your comments on this topic inspired me to do a little digging, starting with your authoritatively sure pronouncement that, "The majority of corn grown goes to livestock for feed not ethanol."

"Corn production plays a major role in the economy of the United States. The country is one of the worldwide corn leaders with 96,000,000 acres of land reserved for corn production.

"The total production of corn in the US for the year 2013-14 is reported to be 13.016 billion bushels of which the major use is for manufacture of ethanol and its co-product (Distillers' Dried Grains with Solubles) accounting for 37% (27% + 10%) or 4,845 million (4.845 billion) bushels (3,552 + 1,293)."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corn_production_in_the_United_States

I'm sure you'll be able to explain why that's not accurate or peer reviewed or whatever, but I think you may have a little more difficulty with the following excerpts from a pretty good article on Scientific American's web site...

"It is important to distinguish corn the crop from corn the system. As a crop, corn is highly productive, flexible and successful. It has been a pillar of American agriculture for decades, and there is no doubt that it will be a crucial part of American agriculture in the future. However, many are beginning to question corn as a system: how it dominates American agriculture compared with other farming systems; how in America it is used primarily for ethanol, animal feed and high-fructose corn syrup; how it consumes natural resources; and how it receives preferential treatment from our government.

"The current corn system is not a good thing for America for four major reasons.

1) "The American corn system is inefficient at feeding people.

"For corn-fed animals, the efficiency of converting grain to meat and dairy calories ranges from roughly 3 percent to 40 percent, depending on the animal production system... little of the corn crop actually ends up feeding American people. The average Iowa cornfield has the potential to deliver more than 15 million calories per acre each year (enough to sustain 14 people per acre, with a 3,000 calorie-per-day diet, if we ate all of the corn ourselves), but with the current allocation of corn to ethanol and animal production, we end up with an estimated 3 million calories of food per acre per year, mainly as dairy and meat products, enough to sustain only three people per acre. That is lower than the average delivery of food calories from farms in Bangladesh, Egypt and Vietnam.

"In short, the corn crop is highly productive, but the corn system is aligned to feed cars and animals instead of feeding people.

2) "The corn system uses a large amount of natural resources.

'Even though it does not deliver as much food as comparable systems around the globe, the American corn system continues to use a large proportion of our country’s natural resources.

"97 million acres — an area roughly the size of California.

"A large amount of our freshwater resources, including an estimated 5.6 cubic miles per year of irrigation water withdrawn from America’s rivers and aquifers.

"Fertilizer use for corn is massive: over 5.6 million tons of nitrogen is applied to corn each year through chemical fertilizers, along with nearly a million tons of nitrogen from manure. Much of this fertilizer, along with large amounts of soil, washes into the nation’s lakes, rivers and coastal oceans, polluting waters and damaging ecosystems along the way.

"And the resources devoted to growing corn are increasing dramatically. Between 2006 and 2011, the amount of cropland devoted to growing corn in America increased by more than 13 million acres, mainly in response to rising corn prices and the increasing demand for ethanol. Most of these new corn acres came from farms, including those that were growing wheat (which lost 2.9 million acres), oats (1.7 million acres lost), sorghum (1 million acres lost), barley, alfalfa, sunflower and other crops. That leaves us with a less diverse American agricultural landscape, with even more land devoted to corn monocultures. And according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, roughly 1.3 million acres of grassland and prairie were converted to corn and other uses in the western Corn Belt between 2006 and 2011, presenting a threat to the waterways, wetlands and species that reside there.

"Looking at these land, water, fertilizer and soil costs together, you could argue that the corn system uses more natural resources than any other agricultural system in America, while providing only modest benefits in food. It’s a dubious trade-off—depleting natural resources to deliver relatively little food and nutrition to the world."

3) "The corn system is highly vulnerable to shocks.

"Although a large monoculture dominating much of the country with a single cropping system might be an efficient and profitable way to grow corn at an industrial scale, there is a price to being so big, with so little diversity. Given enough time, most massive monocultures fail, often spectacularly. And with today’s high demand and low grain stocks, corn prices are very volatile, driving spikes in the price of commodities around the world. Under these conditions, a single disaster, disease, pest or economic downturn could cause a major disturbance in the corn system.

"...This isn’t rocket science: You wouldn’t invest in a mutual fund that was dominated by only one company, because it would be intolerably risky. But that’s what we’re doing with American agriculture. Simply put, too many of our agricultural eggs are in one basket."

4) "The corn system operates at a big cost to taxpayers.

"Finally, the corn system receives more subsides from the U.S. government than any other crop, including direct payments, crop insurance payments and mandates to produce ethanol. In all, U.S. crop subsidies to corn totaled roughly $90 billion between 1995 and 2010—not including ethanol subsidies and mandates, which helped drive up the price of corn.

"Bottom line: We need a new approach to corn

"As a crop, corn is an amazing thing and a crucial part of the American agricultural toolbox. But the corn system, as we currently know it, is an agricultural juggernaut, consuming more land, more natural resources and more taxpayer dollars than any other farming system in modern U.S. history. As a large monoculture, it is a vulnerable house of cards, precariously perched on publicly funded subsidies. And the resulting benefits to our food system are sparse, with the majority of the harvested calories lost to ethanol or animal feedlot production. In short, our investment of natural and financial resources is not paying the best dividends to our national diet, our rural communities, our federal budget or our environment. It’s time to reimagine a system that will.

"What would such a system look like?"

As they say, "Click here": http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/time-to-rethink-corn/

Say what you will, but to a LOT of people, the "Big Ag" approach to things is a (well-intentioned, no doubt, but) monumental waste of our (we Americans) resources that is almost all about making money and much less so about producing healthy and nutritious food as efficiently as possible.

To that point, I always think of one of the stories my (recently late great) neighbor, Bud, told about his days growing up on a northern Minnesota farm in the 1920s and 30s (before heading off to put in a little time ducking for cover behind a bulldozer blade on Iwo Jima during WW 2):

"We had a hundred-pound sack of oatmeal, and a hundred-pound sack of navy beans sitting in the corner of the kitchen, and we ate those things all winter."

And, his wife (June) told me one time, "And he still just LOVES navy beans to this day."

"Total U.S. production of Dry Edible Beans is approximately 2 million acres."

https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/articles/ji-beans.html

Sooo... 96,000,000 acres of corn compared to 2,000,000 acres of beans. Not that corn isn't and hasn't been a great basic source of nutrition for humans for thousands of years (when consumed as actual corn) but what's that? 45 times more investment in corn (that's fed to animals and used for fuel and exported) than an investment in sources of nutrition that, less than 100 years ago, people like my neighbor (who lived to be 88 and never did have much time for, "The agribiz boys," as he put it) used to eat all winter (with their oatmeal, of course).

You can defend feedlots and corn growers and whatever aspects of today's "Big Ag" you feel you have to (it doesn't suck up too much water, it isn't a primary cause of pollution, etc.), but please stop saying or implying that it's a some kind of "marvel of efficiency" that everyone should stop questioning or criticizing unless they have lots of peer reviewed proof. Some people don't need peer reviews to know which way the wind's blowing.

again

Again with the Wikipedia. That has to be just about the least reliable source there is. I could put whatever I want on that site as can anyone else and it doesn't have to be true at all. Approximately 60% of corn grown in MN goes to livestock production. That's the majority.

1. You say it is inefficient to feed livestock yet only look at meat and dairy while refusing to look at the other products derived from the livestock. Have you ever heard the old saying "everything but the squeal"?

2. You haven't compared the amount of resources used to grow corn to anything. Not sure what you are getting at then other than anti-ag. The additional corn acres are being grown due to higher corn prices that have been proven to have nothing to do with ethanol production as so many like to blame. I see the continued pollution blame being placed on ag again. Compare the amount of pollution per acre from fields to the amount per acre from cities and see who can do more to pollute less. Discovery farms is a good starting point for you. I think you'd be hard pressed to find any agriculture system anywhere that doesn't have some pollution. The use of the word "monoculture" is nothing but a buzzword because any good farmer knows he can't raise corn on corn forever and must rotate different crops in in order to keep his yields up.

3. No it really isn't rocket science. If that is what the market pays the most more and is the most profitable that is what farmers are going to grow.

4. If the taxpayers want less expensive fuel and less expensive food to purchase I guess that is part of the cost. You've only got so many people willing to grow your food and produce your fuel that have a high cost to do so with little profit that is part of what needs to be done. There may be better ways to accomplish things but so far our government has not decided to change the status quo.

Perhaps if more people ate navy beans and other products the prices would dictate farmers to plant more acres of them and we wouldn't have this "monoculture" you speak of.