By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News
The men and women walking out of the Henry County Corn Growers Banquet last night left with a challenge: Tell your story.
As members of the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) celebrated the progress of the last year and meditated on the goals set before them in the year to come, board president Ken Helt shared the power in a farmer?s testimony.
Introduced as a farmer to a woman a few years ago, she responded to Helt by saying, ?Oh, you?re one of them guys.?
In her skepticism, he showed her pamphlets detailing the innovation of the corn industry, including renewable energy.
?Well, I don?t use that ethanol stuff. That?s poison to my car,? she retorted.
?You really have to get the word out,? Helt said to members of Henry County Corn Growers on Thursday, Feb. 22. ?She uses this ?ethanol stuff? now and she?s a friend of ours now,? he added.
That?s what Grant Menke, director of Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA), focused on as the guest speaker of the night, talking about the excitement of production, promotion, policy and the people championing renewable fuel.
ICGA district director Janelle Kracht said that with a culture shift of distrust toward the agriculture community, consumer education needs to be a priority. That?s why the ICGA attends a lot of local organization events such as the Iowa Corn 300 in Newton and county fairs, talking to consumers about where their food comes from.
?We are nice people, we take care of our livestock, we care about the water you drink because we?re drinking it too, and we?re growing safe food because it turns out we?re feeding our kids the same food you?re feeding your families,? Kracht said.
Kracht said that farmers are the humblest people she?s ever met and that they need to start bragging on themselves. ?Without you, we don?t eat, we don?t have inexpensive gas,? she said. ?I encourage you to share your story. It?s not easy to brag about yourself.?
As Menke elaborated production in the industry, he said that there?s a lot of innovation happening, which leads to an increased demand for corn being produced.
One example of this is E15 American Ethanol, which is the biggest growth market for ethanol in the U.S. Across the country, 1,300 gas stations carry E15 in 29 states.
?It?s 21st Century fuel for 21st Century vehicles,? Menke said.
Menke said that while consumer education is important, studies show that consumers are not interested in learning about their fuel. In that regard, he praised KwikStar?s marketing method, which is doing nothing to draw attention to E15.
A year ago, E15 was only in four KwikStar locations. Today, it has expanded to 330 stores. Doing nothing markets it as an ?everyday fuel for the everyday consumer,? Menke said.
In Iowa, the number of E15 stations has nearly quadrupled since January 2016, going from 40 to 159 locations and increasing E15 sales by 189 percent.
There still is a long way to go, however. In Henry County, there are no E15 fuel stations. ?That?s not acceptable,? Menke said. ?We?ve got to continue to grow here so we can export that success story across the country.?
One of the ways they are doing this is by turning the pumps pink for breast cancer awareness month in October. Menke said that as a healthier, biodegradable fuel, E15 is the perfect pump to choose to fight breast cancer. By choosing the pink E15 nozzle at the pump, three cents per gallon is donated to the National Breast Cancer Foundation during the month of October.
Menke said this is another way to convey to consumers that this fuel will work in their engines.
As Menke continued in his presentation to talk about policy and people, he praised Governor Kim Reynolds and senators Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, saying they have been tremendous champions for renewable fuel.
He also praised President Donald Trump, saying however Iowans feel about him now, he remembers the impact this state had on getting him elected.
?He has kept his word thus far and gone to bat with us,? Menke said. ?Right now, he is our backstop on the (Renewable Fuel Standard).?
Finally, Menke said that the important people are also those who were in the audience last night ? the men and women who make up the ICGA. He encouraged them to be advocates for themselves and call their legislators.
?You can make a difference by letting legislators know how you feel about these important issues,? Menke said.
The ICGA was established in 1967. It currently has 8,000 members in Iowa, almost 70 of which are Henry County residents, with a goal to increase their membership to 10,000 by 2020.
Membership money is used to lobby in Des Moines and Washington, D.C. Current issues being addressed are the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the farm bill, water quality and the Federal Tax Policy.