Biofuel plant

Things are coming to a head when it comes to the Trump administration and the biofuel industry.

President Donald Trump rode the strong support of farmers and rural voters to victory in the 2016 presidential election, but some of those previously solid Trump supporters are starting to lose faith in a president who continues to grant small refinery waivers at an unprecedented rate.

Several farmers involved with the ethanol and biodiesel industries spoke out during a Sept. 26 conference call with reporters.

Daryl Haack, a farmer from Primghar, Iowa, serves on the board of directors of Little Sioux Corn Processors. He said most of the members of the board of that ethanol plant are staunch Republicans who voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but many would not vote for Trump today.

“This is going to be a problem (for Republicans),” Haack said.

It is not difficult to see why those farmers are wavering in their support. Haack said the refinery waivers have led to the loss of about a billion bushels of corn demand, which would mean upwards of a dollar a bushel in the price of corn.

“That’s corn that won’t just be disappearing,” Haack said. “It’s going to create a huge problem for farmers in our area.”

Ron Heck, a soybean farmer from Perry, Iowa, and secretary of the National Biodiesel Board, said the impact on the biodiesel market has been about 240 million gallons — a loss of about 63 cents per bushel on the price of soybeans.

A number of ethanol and biodiesel plants have either gone broke or have temporarily stopped production due to the situation, leading to a loss of jobs in rural areas and the loss of a market for grain, just as farmers are beginning to harvest corn and soybeans throughout the Midwest, the farmers on the call said.

That could lead to storage and transportation issues. It means a smaller supply of dried distillers grains for livestock producers in many areas. It certainly affects the price of grain. And it means bankers may be less likely to lend money to farmers or biofuel facilities until the matter is resolved, the farmers said.

“We need the announcement (of a change of policy by President Trump) in the next couple weeks,” said Kelly Nieuwenhuis, a farmer near Primghar who is president of the board at Siouxland Energy, which has stopped production.

Nieuwenhuis shut down his ethanol plant in Sioux Center earlier in September, the second in Iowa following Plymouth Energy’s announcement in July it would close its plant in Merrill, also in northwest Iowa.

On Sept. 24, W2 Fuels said because of poor market conditions it was closing biodiesel plants in Crawfordsville, Iowa, and in Adrian, Mich., resulting in 50 total layoffs.

Nieuwenhuis said he believes Trump’s “political future” hangs in the balance of a deal to increase biofuels demand.

“We realize that it’s (Trump’s) EPA, but he’s the one they answer to. And when he made that call to grant those last 31 small-refinery exemptions, you can’t believe how many upset farmers I was with that day that said they were done voting for President Trump,” he said. “That was the final straw and that message is getting out there pretty strongly.”

“President Trump vowed to support this industry,” said John Linder, a corn farmer from Edison, Ohio and incoming first vice president of the National Corn Growers Association. “We need him to keep that promise.”

The biofuel supporters all urged farmers to contact local and national lawmakers to express their opposition to the refinery waivers.

Additional reporting by Thomas Friestad with the Gazette Des Moines Bureau.

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Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.