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Ethanol still faces choppy seas

Jeff Caldwell 11/16/2012 @ 3:13pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

The battle lines were drawn earlier this year, and with action Friday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the fight's over for now.

Leaders of EPA on Friday upheld the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), a move that preserves the 5 billion-gallon mandate for the corn-based fuel that came under fire this summer after the nationwide drought slashed crop potential, hiked corn prices, and fueled worries that a short crop may not be enough to meet massive demand.

The fight over the waiver pitted livestock and crop producers against one another, with the former facing sharply higher feed input costs, while the latter saw higher grain futures prices because of the drought. But as the year went on, some in the industry saw the ethanol sector as a minor influence on overall corn prices. And it's that line of reasoning, market-watchers say, that led to EPA's waiver denial.

"It's not ethanol that's driving up commodity prices, it's Mother Nature and the drought," says Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, adding that the industry has scaled back -- just like other sectors -- because of the drought.

"The ethanol industry is down about 11% or 12% of our production, and you're seeing exports reduced and feeders looking for other sources of feed. That's how the marketplace does respond to these conditions, and that's how it should be," he adds.

How will the grain marketplace respond to Friday's ruling? With a brief acknowledgment and likely not much more, says grain broker and market analyst Jason Roose of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa. The waiver's denial was already factored into prices for the most part, he says, especially considering the fact that few saw the request as having much of a viable future.

"I think it was a very thin chance that it would have passed. I think it was kind of a nonissue," Roose says. "I think a lot of this is probably factored into the market. The demand situation's been almost solved. This really started back whenever we have a short crop."

Though Friday's ruling, on paper, should keep ethanol production chugging along, that doesn't mean the sector -- which has itself been under pressure from drought-fueled higher corn prices -- will see choppy seas smooth out much too soon, says Cargill Senior Grain Merchandiser in Eddyville, Iowa, Ray Jenkins.

"There are many, many, factors in these markets right now. I think you need to understand that the ethanol business is kind of a 'sick pup' right now, with no clear path to improving weak/negative margins," Jenkins says. "To make things even more murky, a big rally in ethanol price would interest Brazil in selling more product into the U.S. Like I said, there is no easy path to the good old days of just 12 months ago!"

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Looking For Bogeymen 11/17/2012 @ 8:41am Not just in agriculture, we see people who are facing a challenge in pursuit of their goals attempt to assign blame to other actors rather than the main cause. The only reason feeders could begin to pursue this sideswipe is because ethanol is the target of various interest groups so people are sensitized to ethanol's presence in the market. I'm glad to see EPA had the common sense to act as they did.

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Re: Re: Looking For Bogeymen 11/18/2012 @ 1:16pm There is too a bogeyman. Its rich, welfare sucking grain farmers and farm states that have been "bought and paid for" by the corn ethanol scam. Its the greedy NCGA, Growth Energy, FB and many other farm groups that would sacrifice their own children on an alter if they could get one more penny per bushel. Corn ethanol makes no sense and these groups know it, but they love the money. They don't care about America or the average person, only themselves and their rich landed gentry "lifestyle". They perpetuate the corn ethanol fraud but more and more people are on to the scam. Corn ethanol is one of many frauds that are bankrupting America. I have no respect for grain farmers who support corn ethanol because, frankly its totally immoral to burn up our food supply for no economic, environmental or social benefit. Moreover, these corn ethanol defenders sound ridiculous and should just be quiet and quit telling lies.

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