WisBusiness: Wisconsin could be national ethanol leader

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – Wisconsin could become a leader in many ways for the burgeoning ethanol industry, according to the state Secretary of Agriculture.

“Gov. Doyle has challenged us to be one of the leading states,” said Secretary Ron Nilsestuen before the 22nd annual International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo at the Midwest Airlines Center Wednesday morning.

“We don’t produce a gallon of gas in Wisconsin, but we have everything needed for bio-fuels on our farms and forestry.”

Nilsestuen acknowledged the state was a “late bloomer” in the ethanol industry, but it is now ranked seventh in the country in production, with four plants and several more in various stages of development.

“Short-sighted politics in our state capitol de-railed the bill by two votes” that would have further established Wisconsin as an ethanol leader, Nilsestuen said, but the vote was “just a bump in the road and we are moving forward.”

Nilsestuen said ethanol producers should think regionally, not just state-by-state. He listed some keys for continued growth of ethanol in Wisconsin and world wide, including good public policy, a world class infrastructure and sustainable profits.

“We need to continue good public policy to make sure the industry grows and benefits farmers and others and the environment,” he said. “It needs to be coordinated between the federal and state levels, and include the public and private sectors. It also needs to be understandable for the public.”

Infrastructure has to include everything from production facilities to transportation and distribution. Nilsestuen said a new rail policy was needed to provide transportation of grains and ethanol to and from rural areas of the state and world.

“It has to include the future of working lands. We have to preserve the places where the fuel comes from,” he said. “We are losing 24,000 acres of farm land per year in this state. Ninety-five percent of our industrial forest lands have changed hands. This energy valued-added industry might be critical for our agriculture and forest lands.”

Bio-fuel refineries can create $20 per hour jobs in “some of the smallest areas of the state,” Nilsestuen said.

Profits from the industry have to be equitably distributed among farmers and others involved at various steps in the processing and distribution.

“To support free enterprise, we also should oppose greed,” Nilsestuen emphasized.

Industries in Wisconsin produce GM cars that run on “flex-fuel,” have made ethanol by-products into Cheez Whiz and processed cranberries from fuel that comes from a land fill site, Nilsestuen said.

“We’re pretty experiences in alcohol of another kind (beer, etc.),” Nilsestuen said. “You know that if you have ever seen a Packers’ tailgate party. We are very glad that you (the 3,500 ethanol industry representatives) are here in Wisconsin. We are committed to helping this industry develop.”