With Biodiesel, Farmers Wear Many Hats

By Rob Shaffer

Rob ShafferMost soybean farmers have gotten a free cap from just about every ag company. Wearing many hats is what we do. And that includes our work with biodiesel.

I started out wearing the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) hat in 2010 as a director. Initially, I was involved with our animal ag work given my livestock background. Then in 2012, I was invited to participate in the state’s biodiesel efforts. I was named an alternate for Illinois representation on the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), and I started attending their meetings. The first thing I learned is that NBB is feedstock neutral, which means not just biodiesel made from soybean oil. I quickly learned, however, that any biodiesel feedstock is good for farmers.

As part of my role as an American Soybean Association (ASA) director for Illinois, where we lobby all things soybean related, I can push the biodiesel narrative. I also stepped up my involvement with NBB because I could see the value of biodiesel. I currently serve on the governing board as second vice chairman, and I have been able to lobby for favorable fuel legislation and regulations in Washington, D.C., on multiple occasions.

I get to interact with the users of our soybeans, including biodiesel plant owners. I have visited REG in Seneca and Danville and Incobrasa in Gilman. You appreciate what these plants can do with our soybeans when you see it in action.

I also take the opportunity to share with other soybean farmers the success story of biodiesel. When soybean farmers started funding biodiesel research in the 1990s, we couldn’t give soybean oil away. We crush soybeans for the meal, and oil supplies were a drag on soybean prices.

Investing in research is the greatest checkoff story of our time. Hedge funds don’t invest in product potential, so it is up to us to invest in soybean uses that offer potential. And biodiesel adds 63 cents per bushel. When you quantify success, checkoff investment is easy to see.

As we look to the future, bioheat is a next big market for biodiesel. Since there is no natural gas used in the Northeast, they use heating oil. We can get 2-5 percent of that market for soyoil-based bioheat. Likewise, renewable diesel is another promising market. Jet planes and cities along the West Coast are potential users where carbon scores are important. They will pay premiums for the right fuel. The East Coast will follow and renewable diesel demand will rise.

Biodiesel has a place on the farm, too. I use 11-20 percent biodiesel on my farm all year long, which are cost-effective blends. My fuel provider provides the different blends, and I have no problems, even in cold weather. I run everything on biodiesel, from a 1967 John Deere 3020 to a 2018 Case IH loader tractor, as well as my combine and trucks.

If you farm and don’t use biodiesel, there’s no time like the present to put on your biodiesel hat.  To learn more about what is happening with biodiesel, visit BiodieselAdvantage.com.

Rob Shaffer is a fourth-generation soybean, corn and Angus cattle farmer from El Paso, Ill.