Minnesota farmers need D.C. to restore ethanol market

Source: By Brian Thalmann, Minneapolis Star Tribune • Posted: Monday, September 30, 2019

Biofuels help all Minnesotans, but for corn farmers it offers hope in a decimated market.

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz visited my farm, where he announced the formation of a biofuels council tasked with promoting the use of renewable fuels in our state. Lowering emissions and improving air quality with biofuels is a win for all Minnesotans. For the state’s corn farmers, it offers some hope for a vital market that has been decimated by actions in Washington, D.C.

The latest blow to the ethanol industry came last month, when the Environmental Protection Agency granted an additional 31 small refinery waivers. Since the announcement, corn prices declined 15% in an already depressed farm economy.

An unprecedented 85 small refinery waivers granted since 2017 have reduced domestic ethanol demand by more than 4 billion gallons. Unsurprisingly, this destruction has taken a toll on greater Minnesota’s once-vibrant ethanol industry as more plants idle and shutdown.

In 2019 alone, we lost an ethanol plant and a biofuel marketer, which represent 46 million bushels of corn processing capacity. For corn farmers like myself who depend on the ethanol market for my crop, that number is devastating.

With that, I am proud to be part of a state with leadership that recognizes the important role biofuels can play as we work toward our environmental goals while benefiting the rural economy. Now, we need our leadership in Washington to show that same support.

It is imperative the EPA stops issuing waivers that are only benefiting big oil while undermining the Renewable Fuel Standard and hurting the nation’s farmers. The more than 4 billion gallons of biofuels removed from the nation’s fuel supply must be re-allocated if we hope to reverse the financial hardship outside the metro area.

Ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement will also provide a much-needed boost to rural Minnesota. All of Minnesota’s 19 ethanol plants depend on the export market for its product, and Canada is the second largest export market for American ethanol. Ratification before the end of the year would also provide some much-needed certainty to corn farmers facing a number of economic headwinds on the trade front.

While we will never be able to undo all the damage caused by the EPA’s waivers, President Donald Trump and federal officials can take action today to begin the recovery. I am thankful the governor is building a brighter future for biofuels at home; now it is time for those in Washington to fix the issue they created.

Brian Thalmann is president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.

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