Ethanol’s Pendulum

It amazes me how the social pendulum has swung from ethanol being a political and media darling in the mid 2000’s to a social outcast Ethanol's Pendulum written by Greg Schwarz on AgChat.orgrecently.  Granted, much is at risk for stakeholders and consumers alike.  Objective discussions become challenging when issues become emotionally charged.  Social media has sped the rate of idea exchange.  This leaves many of us in the position of responding to criticism and negative attacks rather than proactively addressing each issue.

Hopefully, my experience will help balance the pendulum.  Diversification helps a farm survive the ups and downs of individual markets.  That is why I purchased shares in a farmer-owned ethanol plant in the early 1990’s.  Later, I added a contract turkey enterprise to my operation.  Ironically, the poultry industry is very outspoken against ethanol.  Higher grain prices mean higher feed prices, which poultry and some livestock producers dislike.  The missing link in the discussion is how much of the price of corn is related to ethanol production and how much is worldwide weather and other market forces.

Grain markets are dynamic.  Blaming only ethanol for higher corn prices is conveniently simplistic.  At the same time, failing to acknowledge ethanol has played some part in thinner poultry margins is disingenuous.  The discussion needs balance.  Currently, corn prices are below levels we saw in 2007 when the federal Renewable Fuels Standard set the bar for biofuel production.  Hopefully, this change eases some of the tension.  Agriculture needs to do a better job of keeping its disagreements out of the headlines.  Production agriculture already has enough critics.

I am thankful my ancestors chose Le Sueur County to build a life around farming.  Our deep rich soil and favorable climate are just right for crop and livestock production.  So far I know of nobody in my area discovering oil under their farmland.  My dad and his dad and his before him, raised a multitude of crops including flax, wheat, oats, alfalfa, sweetcorn and peas.  Over time we’ve learned field corn is the most productive and most profitable crop for our farm.

To illustrate, assume an average yield of 180 bushels of corn per acre.  That is 10,080 pounds of corn.  Through processing, only the starch is removed yielding 522 gallons of ethanol.  The protein is still intact.  That protein is about 3,360 pounds of what we call dried distillers grains (DDGs), a very high quality livestock feed.  My farm could produce about 55 bushels of wheat per acre.  That is 3,300 pounds of wheat.  Therefore, the DDGs alone from one acre of corn are roughly equal to the total pounds of wheat I can produce from the same acre.

I have used this analogy in conversations with friends, relatives, news reporters and civic groups.  It helps people understand why I raise corn on my farm.  From there the conversation can migrate to clean air, a strong economy, and dependence on fossil fuels.  It is my hope that a balanced discussion of the issues surrounding ethanol will swing the pendulum once again.

Written by Greg Schwarz

 _________________________________________________________________Greg Swarz farms near Le Sueur, MN with his wife and two teenage children where they raise corn, soybeans, and turkeys.  He serves on the board of directors for Heartland Corn Products ethanol plant in Winthrop, MN as well as the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and is a member of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.  Greg graduated from the University of Minnesota with degrees in Animal Science and Agricultural Economics.  He has also completed the Minnesota Ag and Rural Leadership program. You can follow Greg on Twitter using handle @LoneOakFmr

November 26th, 2013 – AgChat on Ethanol

AgChat on EthanolEthanol: Good, Bad, or Ugly? The reputation of ethanol production in the USA varies on your belief in bio-fules, subsidies, or oil economics. This AgChat conversation looks at Ethanol from several angles and generates some insight on what people in and out of agriculture believe.
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Feed. Unite. Educate. Lead.

Recently agvocate Taylor Truckey had the opportunity to attend the 2013 Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conference. Her reaction Agriculture Future of America Leaders Conferencefollowing the conference reminded me of how many of our attendees feel following an AgChat Foundation Conference. It speaks to the importance of continuing education through the many, quality conferences available in the agriculture industry. Through conference such as AFA and AgChat Foundation you can confidently say you are on the forefront of leaders in both the social media and agriculture industries. Taylor provides an energetic synopsis of the AFA Leaders Conference and provides the benefits to attending continuing education training resources such as the AgChat Foundation’s upcoming 2014 Northwest Regional Agvocacy Conference scheduled for January 30-31 in Portland, OR. Registration is now open until December 27. The investment is $100 for farmers and ranchers and $150 for ag professionals and educators. For additional information visit the Eventbrite site. ~Jenny Schweigert

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to participate in the 2013 AFA Leaders Conference in Kansas City. Over the course of 3.5 days, I sat through sessions geared towards my track, Track 3. There are four tracks for the Leaders Conference; each is targeted towards a grade level in college. As a junior(ish) at Michigan State, I was entered into Track 3 even though this was my first year participating! Track 3 students heard from a number of phenomenal speakers on topics ranging from personal finance/investing, family dynamics in farming operations, connecting across generations, managing job offers, and project management. We also had the opportunity to sit down with the executives of some top agricultural companies and ask them questions about their careers. Then we were able to join in a “Mocktails” event where we talked with recruiters from our industry; this was a great opportunity to practice etiquette in a social setting. Who knew that you’re supposed to keep your drink in your left hand?! That was a new tip for me!

Personally, I feel that the Leaders Conference was one of the most impactful conferences that I have taken part in. The entire week was a whirlwind of information, networking, and valuable lessons, the organizers of the conference aren’t joking when they compare it to drinking out of a firehose! I know that I have taken many things away from the 2013 Leaders Conference and applied them to different aspects of my life already. I’ve already been thinking of ways to apply the skills that I gained to future projects, like planning another ag awareness event at MSU, or starting a new student group that focuses on leadership, personal & professional development, and opportunities within agriculture.

The best part of the AFA Leaders Conference was the environment. From the minute we checked into the hotel, we were surrounded by some of the top ag students from across the nation! This created a powerhouse of ideas and offered many different viewpoints for our sessions since everyone came from such different backgrounds and experiences.

The Agriculture Future of America staff couldn’t have been more welcoming or accommodating throughout the conference. From being able to talk one-on-one with the President of AFA, Russ Weathers, to engaging with past or present Student Advisory Team members, the staff works to ensure that we are gaining everything we possibly can from the conference. I truly left Kansas City with a fire in me to be the best that I can be, to take the skills that I gained and share them with others. The 2013 AFA Leaders Conference made me ready to F.U.E.L the Future!

I would highly recommend this conference or any of AFA’s (Food, Policy, or Animal) Institutes to any college student and encourage everyone to apply! For more information on AFA, click here.


Taylor Truckey - attendee of 2013 ACF's National Agvocacy ConferenceTaylor Truckey is currently a senior studying Crop and Soil Sciences at Michigan State University. Taylor grew up on a small cattle operation in southern Michigan with her parents, Ted & Heidi, and two brothers. She will be graduating in Spring of 2015 and looks forward to working as an agronomist and advocate for our industry. You can find Taylor on social media on Twitter: @taylor_truckey, Instagram: @taylor_truckey and Facebook:


November 19th, 2013 – FoodChat on FoodThanks

FoodChat on FoodThanksBeing Thankful #FoodThanks is a way to say thanks and share thoughts on how people help others. This FoodChat conversation also looks at what food people are preparing for the holiday and what memories they have about their family and food.
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Saturday Share Fest Feature!

Did you share on Saturday’s ShareFest this past Saturday? If you did you had a chance to be highlighted here on the

Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg

Photo Credit: Edwin Remsberg

blog. This week we’ve picked Jennie Schmidt, RD, to feature!

Jennie, aka, The Foodie Farmer or @FarmGirlJen on Twitter, is passionate about connecting the farm to the fork. She combines her enthusiasm as a registered dietician with her passion for agriculture while working on projects such as CommonGround MidAtlantic’s Field to Fork Farm Tour in September.

What is especially unique to Jennie’s agvocating efforts is that as a registered dietician, she has a natural connection with other RD’s, who are a key part to bringing our food to the plate.

You can check out her latest – and very popular, I might add – blog post. Following a survey of her followers she established a Top Ten list of Agriculture’s Most Annoying Words. Some of these are real envelop pushers including ‘Big,’ ‘Shill’ and ‘corporate’ to name a few.

Be sure to also connect with Jennie via her The Foodie Farmer fanpage where she provides a birds eye view to the happenings around their farm.

Congratulations for being this week’s Saturday ShareFest Feature!