Conservation Leader Integrates Ethanol as a Marketing Hedge
For years, Glen Riekhof, a farmer from Concordia, contributed countless hours of research and meetings to make Missouri’s first ethanol plant a reality. Still, Riekhof doesn’t see ethanol transforming the way he manages his land or produces his crops.
“I feel like ethanol is a good hedge for me, but I haven’t changed my cropping patterns much and I don’t plan to,” says Riekhof. “On my ground, planting corn after corn is not the best idea.”
“I think you reduce the number of trips over the ground to the bare minimum. You use no-till and double up operations where you can, and you use alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel," Reikhof says of the best ways to improve a farm's environmental impact. This is the care for the land and his operation that have made Riekhof one of the leading farmland conservation in his area.
He continues to apply tools like Global Positioning Satellite technology to managing issues like fertilizer use, and he’s still working on forestry initiatives and an aggressive rotation system to preserve pasture quality and diversity for his beef cattle.
Riekhof has thought a lot about how best to integrate ethanol’s benefits in ways that reinforce his successful operation. For example, an ethanol plant in his area gives him access to distillers grains, a feed co-product from the ethanol process. Riekhof uses distillers grains to supplement the diet of the cows he pastures and to feed calves until they weigh 800 pounds and need the additional energy available in whole corn.
Most of all, he sees ethanol as another tool for marketing his corn. “What I’ve done is invest in two ethanol plants up to the amount of corn I raise. When the price of corn is high, that’s good even though the ethanol won’t return as much profit. And when corn prices are down, then the ethanol returns really well. It’s a perfect hedge.”
Too often in farming history, growers have been captive sellers with little or no choice about where they sold their crops. Farmers with no alternative markets have little choice but to take the price they are offered. By developing ethanol plants, growers hoped to increase demand for corn and have more options for marketing.
Riekhof values having more than one place to sell his grain. Depending on the prices being offered, he can market corn to nearby feed mills that supply the poultry industry, to a grower-owned ethanol plant, or to a grain elevator that ships trainloads of corn for export – all within a reasonable drive from his farm.
That competition has meant earning as much as 30 cents above the Chicago Board of Trade market in recent months. “I really consider my ethanol more as an investment than a part of the farm,” he says. “To succeed in farming today, it’s not enough to manage your crops well. You’ve also got to work at how you sell them.”
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