If Darrin Ihnen could pick one thing he's going to attack as he steps into the role as president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) , it's how to get higher ethanol blends into fuel. He'll get after that, too, when he becomes the 33rd president on Oct. 1.
“We're shooting for blends up to and including E15  (15% ethanol) and someday even higher,” says the Hurley, SD, farmer. “Brazil runs E25 in their American-made cars without any problems. And in São Paulo (with roughly 20 million people), you don't even notice any smog.”
Ihnen says the major roadblock to higher blends is that currently the EPA  won't allow more than a 10% ethanol blend. However, NCGA anticipates a new ruling to raise that limit in December.
NCGA is firmly behind ethanol's benefits, he says. “It's the same great product we had three years ago and we should continue with it because:
- It reduces greenhouse gases.
- It lowers dependency on foreign oil, so it's an energy security issue.
- It works well in vehicles.
- It is good for rural development.
“Higher blends are a great stimulus package that won't cost taxpayers a dollar,” Ihnen adds. “In fact, North Dakota State University says going to E15 will create 136,000 new jobs.”
When it comes to producing ethanol from fiber (cellulosic), Ihnen has a leg up on most. He's been working with Poet the past few years on a cob-harvesting project.
“But now we're past the research stage,” he says. “We know it works and we're putting our money where our mouth is. We're doing it with corn cobs because we feel corn is the best fit for cellulosic (ethanol).”
Ihnen stores harvested cobs in piles on-farm. The local ethanol plant at Chancellor, SD, picks them up for use in their plant, where Ihnen is a stockholder.
BUT ETHANOL ISN'T Ihnen's only passion. Climate-change legislation ranks right up there, too. “It's put ag in a tough spot,” he says. “We can sequester carbon, but can we do it so it doesn't cost us too much to run our businesses. Or is there a risk it could even run us out of business?” He thinks this legislation is still a year or two off, but NCGA has grave concerns and will be spending a lot of time on it.
He'll be focusing on improving communications with consumers and even within NCGA's membership ranks. “There are plenty of ‘anti’ issues out there and we need to address them. We're also focused on getting more of our grassroots members up to speed on those issues. For example, the grocery manufacturers group is still a problem and it takes effort to push back on that.”
On the biotech front, Ihnen says there's still lots of work to do. “We have new biotech products coming and we want to gear up because anti-biotech groups are still very active.
“Without biotech, we simply could not produce enough corn to supply the uses for food, feed, fuel and fiber,” Ihnen says. “A good example is in Europe, where without biotech, yields are flatlining and decreasing.”
IHNEN IS A FOURTH-GENERATION farmer who raises about 4,000 acres of corn, plus soybeans and wheat. He also finishes 15,000 hogs a year. That puts him in a position to understand both the crop and livestock sides of issues.
“I've been able to meet lots of politicians the last few years and that's important because everything is so politicized these days,” he says. “Right or wrong, things come out of D.C.”
No one knows that better than current NCGA President Bob Dickey. “Darrin has been very helpful to me this past year. I have lots of confidence in him as he takes over,” he says. “He has a passion for ag, and is focused and dedicated with a servant's attitude.”
Ihnen says if he believes in something, he has good follow-through and that should benefit him as he heads up NCGA. “I can work through tough spots by sticking to what I believe and what I think is right,” he says.