Developers for biofuel beets plant turn to growers

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 9, 2014 at 10:18 am •  Published: March 9, 2014

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Backers of a proposed project in North Dakota that would turn a variety of sugar beets into ethanol have preached patience for the last five years. Now they're looking for a commitment from farmers to sweeten the deal.

A North Dakota State University agriculture economics professor who's helping developers with the project is touring the state to talk with farmers about their interest in first growing the so-called energy or industrial beets and then in investing in a plant.

"One of the concerns or challenges they have is getting farmers to grow the new crops," said Dave Ripplinger, who specializes in bioenergy and biofuels at NDSU. "You have to get new growers in a specific region to commit not just for one year, but enough to support a factory."

The timing has become a factor because results from test trials are mostly favorable and farmers need to figure out their crop rotations at least two and perhaps four years in advance to make sure they have the right chemicals in the ground. For a plant to open in 2016 or 2017, developers would need to know by November if farmers are on board.

Brett McIlonie, who farms near Pingree, said he can understand why promoters are ready to advance the project from research to reality.

"It's a big commitment on their part, too," he said. "We are interested if the numbers work."

Ripplinger led a series of meetings in January at five towns that are leading contenders for a plant. He purposely kept the conversation at a general level because the idea was new to many people in attendance. He's going back out this month to delve into details about the economics of the project.

"When I go to the meetings, everyone is interested," Ripplinger said. "That certainly doesn't mean that anybody's going to do it or that everybody's going to do it or enough people are going to do it. But they're showing up."

The beets that produce biofuels are different from beets grown for human consumption. Industrial beets are genetically bred specifically for the making of renewable fuels and can be grown just about anywhere in the United States.

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