Each of us has important days in our lives.
For me, the day I entered this world, here in north central Iowa—on July 7, more than 60 years ago—is obviously important. I grew up on the same farm my wife and I now own, just two miles away from the farm my dad and his dad were raised on. Next in lifechanging events include my wedding day, my children’s birthdays and my wife’s birthday.
We use dates as a way to mark events in our lives. Aug. 31, 2000, is one such date.
On that last day of August, going on eight years ago, I purchased shares in a new ethanol plant being built just across the state line in Minnesota. Farmers from southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, along with business and community leaders, spent hours upon hours creating the business plan for what today is POET Biorefining — Glenville, Minn.
I read the prospectus with details of the proposed new plant and was told that my money was at risk. The first meetings were about a proposed 30 million gallon annual production plant, which ended up being scaled back to 15 million gallons in order to get it built, with plans to immediately double expansion. It was the best way to get this project into action, and I was impressed at the level of commitment by the people making the plans.
But there were no guarantees of success. I attended the informational meetings and trusted the people who were in charge. Yes, it was a risk, but it looked like it could work. We farmers are very good at creating a supply, and here was our chance to increase demand for our own product.
After selling corn for under $2 a bushel for too many years, here was a way to grow demand for our corn and keep fuel prices down using a renewable source grown right in our own country.
It’s been quite a ride in the years since those first months during 2000. Ripples have spread out in all directions affecting corn growers first, followed by the suppliers of machinery, seed, fertilizer and herbicides. Farmers are receiving their income from the marketplace, reducing the level of support from the United States Department of Agriculture’s farm program. As the ethanol movement gained momentum, I took the opportunity to invest in a second ethanol plant, this time in Iowa.
Then in 2003, an ethanol plant was built practically in my own backyard, directly across the road from my farm. I watched from the window of my living room as the POET Biorefining — Hanlontown, Iowa, plant was built. When the grand opening was held, I was probably the only person in attendance who walked to it.
I had no idea, back on that late August 2000 day, of the impact that all these changes would have on farming and my neighborhood. I have had a front-row seat on the growth of the ethanol business.
I look at ethanol much like a proud parent. The ethanol business of today seems to be in those awkward teenage years. Like many adults say of teenagers, “He’ll never amount to anything.” But others like me believe, “He’s a good kid. He’ll do fine.”
I find many of the arguments from ethanol naysayers do not stand up to close inspection. They’re usually the same knee-jerk reactions based on speculation, gossip and superficial research.
Ethanol’s place in farming, and as a source of fuel, is still being defined. As a corn grower, I want to maximize income while controlling expenses—something I was doing long before ethanol came along. The equations that exist between income and expense are being rewritten. It appears that someday we will be harvesting corn cobs or switch grass, and hauling that to an ethanol plant.
Farming is still farming. My great grandfather Ole started our farm in 1875 with horses. Horses gave way to tractors, and my grandfather subsequently added more acres after him. My 30-year-old son will be farming with aid from satellites. As our family line continues to grow, right along with the farming industry, we’ll continue to add many more important and unforgettable dates to our calendars. And Aug. 31, 2000, will go down in the books as the day we joined the ethanol age.