Industry Brims With Optimism at NEC

By Mike Bryan | March 05, 2009
The 2009 National Ethanol Conference in San Antonio was, in my opinion and I believe the opinion of most attendees, a smashing success. Despite the predictions of doom and gloom, the ethanol industry is not only alive but enthusiastically moving into 2009.

The agenda put together by the Renewable Fuels Association was excellent, and the attendance of more than 1,000 people demonstrated the industry's commitment to growth.

There have been plant closings, and there may be more closings or at least temporary shutdowns in the future, but the spirit of the ethanol industry is certainly not broken.

Life is all about timing, as they say. Plants built more than two years ago that have paid down debt, as well as older plants that are debt-free, are doing well. Admittedly, in today's economy, plants that have a high debt load are struggling to make a profit with the current market conditions. At the conference, it was encouraging to see how producers are coping with the economic downturn: reducing costs, making ethanol more efficiently and searching out new markets for coproducts, to name a few. In short, producers all across the country are turning lemons into lemonade on a grand scale.

Clearly, there are opportunists scanning the horizon for plants that can be purchased at bargain prices. While some may see the negative side of that, others, myself included, look at it as a vote of confidence in the future of the industry. These investors are willing to put their money in a market that they know has a long-term future and at a price that will allow them to be profitable. Today's market entry prices will put new investors on a level playing field with the plants that have already paid down or paid off their debt. Unfair, you say? Well, I guess we all know that life isn't fair, and we might as well get over it.

The type of people at the National Ethanol Conference ranged from happy producers who are making money to producers scrambling to keep their heads above water to those looking for a bargain. However, I think everyone left the conference with renewed sense that the ethanol industry, while not particularly well under current market conditions, is clearly on the mend and there is great reason for renewed optimism.

That's the way I see it!

Mike Bryan
Publisher & CEO