Editorial: Ethanol shines in Nebraska

Source: By Editorial Board, Norfolk Daily News • Posted: Thursday, April 13, 2017

Amid concerns about a soft farm economy, ethanol is a bright spot in what some see as a bleak forecast for agriculture.

With an operating capacity of approximately 2.2 billion gallons of ethanol, Nebraska ethanol producers — like Husker Ag near Plainview and the Louis Dreyfus plant in Norfolk — used a whopping 31 percent of the state’s corn crop in 2016.

That’s an increase of five percent compared to 2015, with production expected to rise this year — making for what could be a record year for ethanol.

Those statistics come on the heels of an impact study by University of Nebraska-Lincoln economists in 2015 that revealed Nebraska’s ethanol production capacity growth between 1995 and 2014 was tenfold with a $5 billion annual economic impact. That growth has only continued since then.

“In a challenging time of agriculture finances, the ethanol sector continues to be a strong market for corn growers,” said Todd Sneller, Nebraska Ethanol Board administrator. “This increase in Nebraska ethanol production shows that more corn is being purchased locally and turned into not only ethanol, but a number of valuable co-products.”

In 2016, for example, Nebraska’s ethanol industry produced more than 7.2 million tons of distillers feeds and 268,000 tons of corn oil. Additional co-products include corn syrup, dry starch and specialty livestock feeds.

“We see what economists describe as an economic ‘bounce’ when we take advantage of the added value as grain is converted to food, fuel, fiber and bio-products,” Mr. Sneller said. “There is enormous potential for biofuels to continue to strengthen the economic health of Nebraska.”

That’s certainly what rural Nebraska needs.

As the second largest producer in the United States, Nebraska’s ethanol production makes a global impact. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States exported more than 1 billion gallons of ethanol in 2016, an increase of 26 percent compared to 2015. EIA estimates net exports of ethanol to rise another six percent in 2017.

“We continue to see huge demand for ethanol in Asian and South American markets,” Mr. Sneller said. “The robust ethanol export trade means we expect another record-level year in ethanol production.”

For some time, the ethanol industry was plagued by critics who didn’t fully appreciate the positive impact it was having, especially in rural areas where economic development prospects are not plentiful.

But the industry — thanks to its supporters among farmers, livestock producers and elected officials — persevered and now is rewarding that confidence by serving as a true bright spot for the state’s agricultural industry at a time when it is needed.