Competitors Can and Do Collaborate

The June issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine profiles a collective of ethanol plants that is helping keep farmer-investors active in the industry, writes Tom Bryan, president and editor in chief. Other stories cover benchmarking, RINs and more.
By Tom Bryan | May 21, 2014

If you subscribe to Ethanol Producer Magazine or follow us online, you’re probably reading this issue in mid-to-late-May.   Others are picking up this installment of EPM at the 30th annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo, which, for three days each June, facilitates a massive exchange of information in an industry that is otherwise fiercely competitive.

We’re proud that, after three decades, the FEW is still fundamentally a producer “workshop” rooted in the spirit of collaboration. Fittingly, this month’s cover story looks at a collective of ethanol plants that sought and found strength in numbers and opportunity through partnership. On page 32, we profile Guardian Energy, a group of Midwest ethanol production companies that have teamed up on three ethanol plant acquisitions in the past five years. Each member of Guardian also has an ownership stake in Renewable Products Marketing Group, which markets ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil for 19 ethanol plants, 14 of which now own stock in RPMG. The producers behind both Guardian and RPMG have benefitted from the alliance. As EPM Senior Editor Sue Retka Schill reports in “Collaborative Growth Platform,” RPMG has given smaller ethanol companies a means to achieve better economies of scale in the marketplace while Guardian’s investors have not just multiplied but diversified their gallons. Both enterprises have helped keep farmer-investors active and relevant in today’s ethanol industry, which is vital.

We spotlight another example of the coexistence of competition and cooperation in our page-40 feature, “Iron Sharpens Iron.” EPM Managing Editor Holly Jessen reports on how benchmarking programs help ethanol producers achieve greater efficiency, and we find out that large ethanol producers like Poet believe competition done right promotes creativity and brings about improvement. Independent plants are embracing benchmarking, too. The producers behind Ascendant Partners’ program, for example, open up their books to each other and collaborate in a continuous “group push for performance and best practices” while the 60-some ethanol plants engaged in Christianson & Associates’ 11-year-old benchmarking program share data and size up their financial and operational performance anonymously.

Also in this issue, we discover why some ethanol producers are blending ethanol with gasoline onsite to leverage the value of RINs at regional pumps. In “Onsite RIN Collection,” on page 50, Staff Writer Chris Hanson reports that producers have become blenders to make sure the value of RINs, in whole or in part, gets passed on to consumers and is not lost in the distribution chain. Our RIN coverage continues with a Q&A with RINAlliance’s Jeff Hove on page 60.

Finally, be sure to read “A Strong Voice for Indiana,” our page-62 profile of the folks behind the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and the Indiana Corn Growers Association, which share office space and staff in Indianapolis, the city hosting this year’s FEW.