U.S. Senate Ag Committee discusses ethanol

By Kris Bevill | August 04, 2008
Web exclusive posted August 20, 2008 at 4:24 p.m. CST

The U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee held a field hearing Aug. 18 in Omaha, Neb., to discuss ethanol and some of the issues surrounding its production. The hearing was led by Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Testimony was given by livestock producers, economists and corn growers.

Nelson told Ethanol Producer Magazine the purpose of the hearing was to address criticisms of the ethanol industry by food manufacturers and to discuss ethanol's role in the energy supply and how that relates to gas prices. "I believe that the hearing was successful in presenting the facts without the hype and giving us a good basis on which to continue our efforts for energy security," Nelson said. "The hearing was balanced and gave all interested parties the opportunity to present their specific role in the food versus fuel debate."

Tim Recker, president of the Iowa Corn Growers Assoc., testified at the hearing on the association's behalf and as a corn grower and pork producer. Recker said his panel consisted of cattlemen, economists, pork producers and an ethanol producer. "I would think that would be the most contentious (group) but it really wasn't and I think the reason is that the market is working for these livestock guys," Recker said, adding that livestock producers are realizing the benefit of having access to distillers grains as a feed for their animals. Recker said the food versus fuel debate this summer was an emotional response from livestock producers who were feeling the pinch of high corn prices. Recker was sympathetic and said that high prices had put livestock producers "into a bit of a bind" but he added that producers who attended the hearing had positive things to say about ethanol and the renewable fuels standard (RFS). He is optimistic that the feuding industries can begin to come together on a U.S. energy policy that includes corn and cellulosic ethanol.

Jeff Lautt, executive vice president of Poet LLC, also testified at the hearing. He assured senators that there is not an undersupply of ethanol in the nation as is widely claimed, but rather an oversupply. He spoke of the need to increase the percentage of ethanol to be used in automobile fuel blends in order to provide a market for the ethanol supply. "Without higher blends, there is literally no place for any additional ethanol to go, which will threaten the development of the commercial cellulosic ethanol industry," he said. "We must move beyond E10 to achieve energy security."

Lautt told the senators that the ethanol industry can produce 50 billion gallons of grain-based ethanol within the next 20 years without substantially increasing food prices or acreage and there is the potential for an additional 85 billion gallons of ethanol to be produced from available biomass feedstocks. "We could eventually produce 135 billion gallons of ethanol, which is over 90 percent of the nation's gasoline usage. This of course, requires sound and stable policy," he said.

Recker echoed Lautt's opinion that producing is not a problem for corn growers. "Even in front of a whole bunch of undesirable weather, we're going to raise the second largest crop in the nation's history, and that's huge," Recker said. "Corn growers have the ability to produce and they will produce until it becomes unprofitable (for them) again. That's what we do. We just produce."