Farmer benefits from ethanol demandby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
Claremont, Minn. — In 1934, Rod Jorgenson's grandfather bought the 1,100-acre farm Jorgenson and his parents now work.
Jorgenson is a big investor in the Al-Corn ethanol cooperative. In the 10 years since it opened, Jorgenson increased his commitment to the plant from 40,000 bushels to 100,000. That's 80 percent of his crop. Ethanol hasn't changed the way Jorgenson farms, but it has helped him save a few dollars.
"The ethanol plant, from my farm, is 18 miles away. Before we hauled corn to the ethanol plant we would go to Winona, where the corn would be loaded on a barge. And that was 60 miles -- so that was three times as far. So even there again, it helps in our fuel consumption," says Jorgenson.
It also helps with storage costs. At one time, Jorgenson stored his corn at a loss. Now most of his crop will be purchased at market prices by the ethanol plant.
Jorgenson's sole income is from the farm, so he's always looking for ways to reduce costs. He says ethanol has helped him make more money, but the price of ethanol goes up with gasoline. So greater returns also mean higher costs to operate his semi and his combine.
"Fuel costs are significant, so the fewer trips that we can make across the field, we're more profitable, as long as we can do what it takes to produce that crop."
For example, Jorgenson's combine also chops corn stalks as it passes, saving him an additional trip across the field. He also uses a global positioning system when he applies fertilizer and pesticide to the field. The GPS helps him pinpoint areas that need fertilizer, and those that don't.
Jorgenson says since he started farming in 1991, he's reduced the amount of pesticide and fertilizer he uses.
Scientists at the University of Minnesota's Southern Outreach and Research Center say most Minnesota farmers have cut their use of nitrogen fertilizer or manure by 95 percent since the 1970s. Currently, one acre that's planted with corn year after year needs 140 pounds of fertilizer.
Jorgenson is also cutting back on pesticides, by purchasing corn that has been genetically modified to fight insects like corn bores. Corn bores drill through the stalk of corn plants and cut off nutrients to the plant.
These minor adjustments are helping Jorgenson save his soil. He says farmers don't get enough credit for how careful they are with the land.
"Your topsoil is probably, obviously, your most valuable part of that field. If the topsoil is gone, your productivity of that field goes down also. So for me as a producer, I've got a financial vested interest in my topsoil staying right where it is."
Jorgenson says he may add more corn to his fields, but he says he wouldn't be adding anymore cropland, just cutting back the acres of soybeans he plants.