Effective Outreach

By Susanne Retka Schill | January 11, 2012

In need of a morale booster? Mike Bryan’s column this month is a good exposition of the passion, drive and perseverance that the ethanol industry has exhibited over the years. Building this industry has never been an easy sell with the public, he reminds us.

There may be a trend emerging in the ethanol industry to communicate with and engage the general public more effectively. In the past several months, I have noticed more ethanol plant managers are being quoted in their regional daily papers. From the stories I see, I can’t tell if the contact was initiated by the newspaper or the plant managers, but it is effective. Any newspaper worth its salt will jump at the chance to localize the national news. When an issue comes up that lends itself to comment, I urge you to contact your local newspaper and explain that you’d like to discuss the issue and how it impacts your business and the community. Take advantage of our industry organizations, too, to get some background information and facts to use. And be honest—if the reporter asks a question you don’t know the answer to, simply say you’d rather not comment since you aren’t well-versed on that topic.

Mike Jerke, general manager of the Benson, Minn., ethanol plant, took a different approach. When he saw an article that troubled him about an organization’s stance, he wrote to the head of the organization. The letter is brief, courteous but pointed. We share that letter below with the readers of Ethanol Producer Magazine.

Susanne Retka Schill, Editor




Mike Jerke, general manager of Chippewa Valley Ethanol shared the following letter he sent to Rob Green, executive director of the National Council of Chain Restaurants, saying,  “It’s one thing to be beaten up by Big Oil, it’s another to have Appleby’s, Chilis, McDonalds, IHOP and Cracker Barrel pile on.” He added that he has not yet gotten answers to the questions he poses.

Dear Mr. Green,
I read with concern the article by Sasha Orman on the Food and Drink Digital website, “National Council of Chain Restaurants Takes on Ethanol,” regarding your association’s position on ethanol from corn. I would appreciate your expounding on the quote attributed to you in the article that states in part, “These subsidies have artificially increased the price of corn, which in turn has driven up costs for restaurants and the customers they serve.”

What costs, specifically, are higher for the restaurants you serve?

Recognizing that ethanol now displaces 10 percent of the gasoline supply that would otherwise be derived from petroleum sources, studies have estimated that the average American household is saving approximately $200 to $400 per year because of ethanol.  That savings represents dollars that can be spent at the establishments that make up your organization.

I was especially troubled by the statement in the article that, “…the organization (NCCR) has now vowed to devise a sustained effort to address these issues and fight for reformed policies, especially once the current VEETC and the tariff expire at the end of December.” [Emphasis added.] If this is an accurate description of the NCCR’s focus there must have been a significant effort to define and quantify the perceived threat. Once again, I would appreciate your sharing what the cost to the restaurant industry is that you attribute to corn-derived ethanol.

As misguided as your policy position on ethanol is, your position on commodity speculation is right on. I would submit that is the real issue. 

Chippewa Valley Ethanol Co. is owned by 900-plus members that have a direct or indirect connection to production agriculture. They will, I am sure, be keenly interested in why the National Council of Chain Restaurants, which represents many eating establishments they frequent, has taken such a strong position against farming, national energy independence and rural economic development.

Mike Jerke
General Manager
Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company
Benson, Minn.