Hultman's Favorite Story of 2023

My Favorite Todd's Take of 2023: Rediscovering the Case for Ethanol

Todd Hultman
By  Todd Hultman , DTN Lead Analyst
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Crude oil prices have had a volatile history since President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 into law, establishing an ethanol industry that provides an important source of low-carbon energy for the country and profitability for corn producers. (DTN ProphetX chart)

Editor's Note:

December naturally had us thinking back over the year that was, including the stories we've created. So, we again asked DTN/Progressive Farmer writers to think back on 2023 and choose a favorite story from the archive. They range from hard-hitting investigative journalism and national scoops to farm family features and fun discoveries made while traveling U.S. farm country. We hope you enjoy our writers' favorites, with today's story by DTN Lead Analyst Todd Hultman.

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Being asked by DTN editors to pick my favorite article of the year is a little like being asked to pick your favorite child. The real answer is that I have many favorites and the ones that often mean the most to me are the ones I think might help the farm community the most or help non-farmers have more appreciation for their farming neighbors.

This year, I chose the Sept. 22 Todd's Take, "Has The Case For Ethanol Come Full Circle?" found at https://www.dtnpf.com/…. I started in the commodity business in Omaha in 1985, a time when corn prices were on the way down to $1.58 a bushel, buried by a 4.88-billion-bushel (bb) surplus by 1986-87. There was talk then of turning corn into ethanol and I knew a farmer who made his own fuel. Politically, however, there was no motivation as crude oil prices were below $20 a barrel.

When the U.S. Congress approved and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the need for ethanol was much more obvious. The U.S. corn surplus was closer to 1.8 bb than it was 4.88 bb, but spot crude oil had broken new highs and prices were near $96 a barrel, on the way to more than $140 a barrel just seven months later. Ethanol's clean air qualities were nice, but it was clear the U.S. needed more than one fuel.

The U.S. eventually worked out of its energy bind of 2007, thanks to the financial meltdown of 2008, the arrival of hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling in the fall of 2011 and the emergence of an ethanol industry that was processing 5 bb of corn by the 2010-11 season.

After the oil industry suffered financial catastrophe in 2020 as a result of the paralyzing reaction to the arrival of COVID-19, U.S. oil supplies became tight again in the summer of 2022 and, once again, the U.S. became vulnerable to the decisions of OPEC. Spot crude oil briefly traded above $120 a barrel in June 2022. President Joe Biden had entered office in 2021, hoping to suppress oil production in favor of green alternatives, but was forced to encourage domestic oil production as OPEC cut back its production.

For anyone looking at the political situation, one party wants more oil, while the other party wants more green solutions. Science confirms that ethanol and biofuels, in general, provide both -- more and cleaner fuel. Unfortunately, the Scientific Advisory Board at the Environmental Protection Agency seems to be caught in a bout of ideological blindness and is unable to acknowledge the low-carbon benefits of ethanol.

At a time when U.S. agriculture faces declining market share of exports in the world and the U.S. struggles to get back its energy independence, I was glad to shine a little light on a practical solution that has widespread benefit, not just for U.S. agriculture, but also for the entire country. History is often not a kind judge of presidential decisions, but in this case, I gained greater respect for how the son of a Texas oilman recognized ethanol's benefits and started an industry that is still needed today.

Todd Hultman can be reached at Todd.Hultman@dtn.com

Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @ToddHultman1

Todd Hultman