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Despite challenges, ethanol supporters say industry is vital

CEO Chris Vincent talks during the co-op's 2019 annual meeting (NTV News)
CEO Chris Vincent talks during the co-op's 2019 annual meeting (NTV News)
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Nebraska's a world leader in ethanol, but global politics have the industry treading on thin ice.

“Tougher together” is Chris Vincent's motto these days. The CEO of Aurora Cooperative stands behind ethanol, even as the profitability has disappeared.

“I know it's the lowest point from an earnings perspective, economically for ethanol, but guess what we're still here, we're still standing and we're not going to stop,” he said.

The co-op is a partner with Pacific Ethanol in two plants. Aurora West continues to operate, while the Aurora East plant laid off about two dozen workers.

Vincent said, “It's an old plant, from an efficiency perspective it's on the lowest quartile of plants so today it's been idled. The west plant is running. We're doing everything we can to keep it running.”

The trade war has affected exports, plus here at home, domestic ethanol growth may hinge on the EPA carrying out President Trump's directive to allow higher blends.

He announced it months ago, but it hasn't happened yet.

“We do remain hopeful but the clock is ticking,” said Nebraska Ethanol Board Administrator Sarah Caswell.

While ethanol backers wait for that, they point to a new University of Nebraska study showing ethanol is now the third largest sector of the state's farm economy after cattle and corn production.

“Folks who otherwise couldn't move back to their hometowns in rural communities in Nebraska have been able to do so and not only have they been able to do so, but make a solid, well paying salary to support their family with,” Caswell said.

In tough times, the Aurora Co-op CEO says they won't play the blame game, but said their resolve is great, as they push to lift barriers holding ethanol back.

Chris Vincent said, “Hey let's pick up the pace and get going. I'm not afraid to say it. We need to be tougher together and get going.”

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The economic study finds ethanol raises corn prices for farmers near plants and has created more than 1,400 jobs directly and many more indirectly.

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