15 Iowa companies get USDA grants to expand ethanol sales

USDA has awarded grants to 15 Iowa companies to improve pumps to handle higher grades of ethanol and biodiesel. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Fifteen Iowa companies were among those receiving grants Thursday to improve ethanol and biodiesel facilities to handle higher grades of the renewable fuels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has invested $22 million in the grants, from a pot of $100 million in the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced. 

Iowa received $9.4 million, or 43% of the grant money. Iowa is the nation’s top producer of corn, which is used to make ethanol, and of ethanol itself. The state also is a major producer of biodiesel, which can be made of soybeans, the state’s second-largest crop.

Perdue was scheduled to visit a Mason City ethanol plant and an Ankeny convenience store Thursday. Politico reported on Thursday that the Office of Special Counsel ordered Perdue to repay taxpayers for an August event with North Carolina food producers at which he supported the re-election of President Trump. 

Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who is supporting Democratic interests, in a statement said of Perdue’s actions,”Secretary Perdue should absolutely pay back the taxpayers, but he should also just plain know better.”

In his news release Thursday about the ethanol grants, under a large-type headline that referred to the Trump administration, Perdue said, “President Trump has expanded ethanol use by unleashing year-round E15, and the result is more demand for American farmers and more affordable fuel for American consumers.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, at a tour in Radcliffe on Sept. 3, 2020, signs a USDA disaster declaration for 18 Iowa counties after a derecho damaged crops. (Screenshot from Iowa Corn livestream)

Among the recipients were Casey’s General Stores Inc., which got nearly $5 million to retool 346 pumps at 70 stations in 13 states, including Iowa. Those projects are expected to boost sales of ethanol by 19.6 million gallons a year.

Kum & Go received $1.6 million for work at 17 stations in six states, including Iowa. Convenience store chain Danlee Corp. got $1 million for work at 10 stations in Iowa. 

Nationwide, projects in 14 states will increase ethanol demand by 150 million gallons per year, USDA reported.

“Investments made through the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program are helping rural communities build stronger economies and will give consumers more choices when they fill up at the pump,” Perdue said. The grants went to companies Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin. USDA listed which members of Congress represented the area for each grant. 

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said the grants resulted from more than year of discussions among Midwestern lawmakers and Iowa’s congressional delegation and President Donald Trump.

“The 15 Iowa fuel suppliers receiving grants today are leaders in bringing cleaner-burning, lower-cost fuel options to consumers,” Shaw said in a statement.

Emily Skor, CEO of the industry group Growth Energy, in a statement said the announcement “offers a welcome ray of hope during an otherwise rough year for America’s farmers, retailers, and biofuel producers.”

More grants will be announced in coming weeks. 

The grants are part of a move to increase the selection of ethanol grades at gas stations and convenience stores. The federal government last year approved year-round sales of E15, a 15% ethanol blend expected to be one of the larger sellers. The most commonly sold blend is 10%, with some pumps offering 85% mixes.