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Soy biodiesel comes of age in Hoosier state
You know you are getting old when the things you remember as new ideas turn into the way we have always done them.

For example, it does not seem like 20 years ago that I sat in a briefing room in Tipton, Ind. and listened to a Pioneer plant breeder talk about the promise of biotechnology in the seed industry.

Likewise, it does not feel like four years ago that I did my first interview about the new process that made diesel fuel from soybeans. Yet, here we are using biotech crops in our fields and soy biodiesel in our equipment.

Last week the Indiana soybean industry celebrated the coming of age of soy biodiesel with the opening of the Integrity Bio-fuels plant in Morristown. Technically it was not the first plant to begin production in the state, a facility in Hammond had opened two weeks earlier. It would also not be the biggest, the Dreyfus plant in Claypool will be the largest when it comes on line in 2008. Yet, the Shelby County facility represented a two-year saga to get Indiana into the soy biodiesel game.

Beginning in about 2001, Indiana soybean farmers really started promoting the use of diesel fuel mixed with Soy Methyl Ester. While the fuel had great benefits and showed promise, the fact was the soybeans and the Methyl Ester came from Ohio. When the Daniels administration came to office, they began advertising for a soy diesel plant to be located in Indiana. First to answer the call was Charles “Shorty” Whittington, president of Integrity Bio-fuels.

Faster than you can say methyl ester, Shorty had a location picked out and construction had begun on the Morristown facility. Then gas prices skyrocketed, Congress pushed the panic button, and soy biodiesel was on everyone’s mind. Within just a few years the Hoosier State went from no place to No. 1 in the production of soy biodiesel. In addition, the state has one of the highest consumption rates of the fuel in the nation and the best distribution system anywhere.

I have found that in these kinds of scenarios there are always a few key individuals who make the difference. Shorty was certainly one of them, but Lt. Governor Skillman, Agriculture Department Director Andy Miller, John Lantz with Countrymark Co-op, and Belinda Puetz with the Indiana Soybean Board all played key roles in growing this fuel industry almost overnight. So when 500 farmers, state officials, and ag leaders gathered on a sweltering hot day in August to open the Morristown plant, it really felt like a debut party for this new renewable fuel industry.

While the industry has gone from a new idea to market acceptance in a very short period of time, it is still just the beginning of the soy revolution. During remarks at the Morristown event Chris Novak, Executive Director of the Indiana Soybean Board, cautioned, “We still have a long way to go.”

There remain many unanswered questions, such as how do we move the stuff? Fletcher Hall with the American Trucking Association told me transportation is a major issue for the renewable fuels industry. Corn and soybeans must be moved from the fields to the plants, the fuel must then be moved to the wholesalers, and finally to the retailers. Hall admits he does not have an answer to this problem, but he remains optimistic one will be found.

Today there are a variety of “new” ideas being tossed around on better ways to produce energy and renewable fuels. It is likely one of these will become the next new industry, and then all of us will feel just a little older.

This farm news was published in the August 9, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.