Weather impacts ethanol operations, impedes corn planting

By Kris Bevill | May 25, 2011

Agricultural commodities live and die by uncontrollable weather circumstances and this spring is proving to be a difficult one for farmers and ethanol producers alike. Flooding along the Mississippi River throughout May had some nearby ethanol producers holding their breath and at least one plant continues to be affected by high water levels.

John Wolf, plant manager of the 92 MMgy Big River Resources West Burlington LLC plant in West Burlington, Iowa, said railroad officials warned early in the month that railways in the area could be shut down for several weeks due to high water along the tracks. Plant officials prepared to re-route its shipments if necessary, but Wolf said operations at the facility were not affected. The situation was much less dramatic this year as compared to 2008, when nearby levees broke, resulting in widespread flooding that cut off the facility’s access to all truck and rail traffic from the east, Wolf said.

Further downstream, the 54 MMgy Bunge-Ergon Vicksburg plant at Vicksburg, Miss., continues to use alternative forms of transportation for corn deliveries and ethanol shipments. The plant, which is located near the banks of the river, typically uses barges for much of its grain and ethanol movement, according to Kirk Latson, vice president of ethanol marketing. But rising river waters consumed the barge docks at the beginning of May, forcing the plant to switch to truck transport in order to maintain operations. “It just made life a little more difficult, that’s all,” Latson said. “We were able to keep the road system open, but that continues to affect us and will until the water recedes down to a certain level.” Latson anticipates barge traffic can re-commence by the first week of June. The ethanol plant itself, while located almost directly on the river, is in an elevated location and was never in danger of flooding out, he said.

Wet weather has also meant a late start for corn planting throughout many of the nation’s major corn producing states. The latest crop report from the USDA shows that farmers are well behind the planting average in Indiana, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Of the corn that has been planted, the USDA estimates that 45 percent of the crop has emerged as of May 22, compared to the five-year average of 59 percent for the 18 states that comprise the bulk of the nation's corn production.