R.F.D. News & Views – February 4, 2015

Tim Alexander

Can Biodiesel Flourish in ‘15?

URBANA – The profitability of biodiesel production was addressed by University of Illinois Dept. of Agricultural and Consumer Sciences agricultural economist Scott Irwin in a farmdocDAILY.com post issued on January 28. The essay followed up on a farmdoc article posted last fall indicating that 2014 was shaping up to be a very tough year for biodiesel producers. Since Irwin’s previous post, there have been major developments– the collapse of crude oil prices, the reinstatement of the biodiesel tax credit– that may balance out in favor of increased biodiesel production, according to the ag economist.

“2014 continued the feast or famine pattern of biodiesel production profits that is closely tied to policy incentives. With the right conditions, policy can incentivize substantial profits, as in 2011 and 2013. The tendency towards losses in other years, like 2014, can be traced to two factors,” Irwin opined. “First, without policy incentives via tax credits and-or RFS mandates, there is no market for biodiesel in the U.S. because biodiesel production costs exceed the price of petroleum diesel. Second, the U.S. biodiesel production industry is over-built and there is ample slack capacity that can be drawn upon as needed.”

Though the biodiesel industry experienced hard times last year, the outlook for 2015 is not entirely bleak, Irwin continued. “The reinstatement of the biodiesel tax credit late in 2014 indicates the tax credit has some chance of coming back in 2015. Most importantly, there is the prospect for a substantial boom in biodiesel production and profits if the RFS renewable mandate is returned to statutory levels,” he said.

IFCA Celebrates 50 Years

PEORIA – The Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association’s (IFCA) annual meeting kicks off their two-day convention and trade show, which attracts hundreds of agricultural chemical retailers, farmers and their families to Peoria for a series of seminars, networking opportunities and training for pesticide applicators and anhydrous ammonia handlers. This year’s convention, held January 20-22 at the Peoria Civic Center and Marriott Pere Marquette Hotel, also served as a celebration of the association’s 50th year of existence. The annual meeting began with a video tribute to IFCA’s 50th anniversary, offering a glimpse at people, places and innovations notable to IFCA over the years, according to Meg Yargus, 2015 IFCA Convention committee chairperson.

The preparation and effort Yargus and others in the convention committee put forth in extending the 50th anniversary theme throughout the Civic Center Exhibition Hall and other staging areas for the convention was apparent. Special 50th anniversary signage was strung throughout the facility, and eight-foot tall, multi sided photo collages from as far back as the 1960s were scattered about. Guests were asked to write on index cards their favorite aspect or memory of IFCA membership or to make note of some of the greatest innovations in machinery and equipment.

In addition to providing a voice and political lobby for its retailer-members, IFCA’s core mission remains focused on safety and education. “I would say the majority of what we do today is education,” said Jean Payne, who has served as IFCA president since 2004. “Education on safety has really been the fundamental message of the IFCA for the past 50 years.”

ISA Biotechnology Summit Planned

BLOOMINGTON – The Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) announced they will partner with key organizations to present the International Biotechnology Symposium on August 31 in Bloomington. The symposium will focus on the need for a synchronous, science-based global approval process for biotech traits, said ISA Chairman Bill Raben, a farmer from Ridgway.

“New biotech traits are key to helping us grow more food sustainably to feed the world’s growing population,” Raben noted, adding that the world currently lacks the science-based approval system for biotech traits that international trading partners seek.
ISA hosted their initial biotech conference in 2013, attracting over 200 participants from 16 countries. Farmers, industry thought leaders, technology providers and international trading partners are encouraged to attend this year’s event, to be held just prior to the Farm PRogress Show.

More information on the symposium is available at www.biotechnologysymposium.com.

CSP Application Cutoff Nearing Deadline

CHAMPAIGN – Though USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) accepts applications for programs addressing natural resource issues on farm and rural land year-round, those wishing to assure consideration for 2015 funding for the new Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) should submit applications by February 27. Applications received by local USDA service center after Feb. 27 will be considered for future funding, a top Illinois NRCS official announced last week.

“CSP offers an incentive for agricultural producers and private forest landowners who maintain a high level of conservation on their land and agree to adopt higher levels of stewardship,” said Ivan Dozier, state conservationist for Illinois NRCS. “By focusing on multiple resource concerns, producers can achieve a sustainable landscape and maintain or increase the productivity of their operation.”

Property owners and farmers selected for CSP will work with NRCS field personnel to complete a resource inventory of their land. Existing and new conservation activities will be inventoried to help determine applicants’ conservation performance, which is used to determine eligibility, ranking and payments. A self-screening checklist offered for CSP can help determine if the program is suitable for individual operations.

“CSP is a great addition to our conservation toolbox for stewardship-minded producers here in Illinois,” Dozier said. “They get rewarded for the great practices they already use and they can work with new options to take things a step further.”

For more information on technical and financial assistance available through USDA-NRCS conservation programs, visit www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted or a local USDA service center. (USDA-NRCS)
(Tim Alexander is a freelance reporter who writes agriculture, news and feature articles for Chronicle Media, Farm World, Prairie Farmer and many other publications. He resides in rural Peoria County with his family.)