Iowa farmers face $1 billion-a-year hit to income without carbon pipelines, report says

Mar 23, 2023

Iowa farmers could lose about $1 billion in annual farm income if carbon capture pipelines aren’t built to ensure the state’s largely corn-based ethanol will remain viable as the country seeks to slow down climate change, says the second part of an industry-backed report.

Iowa is the nation’s largest producer of both corn and ethanol. A 75% estimated loss in ethanol production if the pipelines aren’t built would force the state’s growers to ship about 44% of their crop outside of the state, primarily to neighboring ethanol-producing states Minnesota, Nebraska and South Dakota, says the report.

Released Monday, the report by Decision Innovation Solutions, an agriculture-focused economic analysis firm, was funded by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.

Iowa farmers currently export 6% of the state’s corn crop to either neighboring states and other countries, according to the report, while the ethanol plants, along with Iowa cattle, chicken and other livestock producers, use roughly 93%.


The association released the second report as lawmakers are expected to consider legislation that would make it harder for the three companies proposing pipelines, Summit Carbon Solutions, Navigator CO2 Solutions and Wolf Carbon Solutions, to them in Iowa. Last month, the association released the report’s first part, calculating that, without the proposed pipelines, the Iowa ethanol industry would lose about three-fourths of its production, worth about $10.3 billion annually, to neighboring states in the next five to 10 years.

The group said the lost revenue would ripple through Iowa’s economy. Last year, Iowa farmers grew 2.5 billion bushels of corn.

Opponents of the pipelines say the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association is trying to scare people into supporting the pipeline projects, which would liquefy carbon dioxide emissions from ethanol and other industrial agriculture plants and pipe them to either Illinois or North Dakota, where they would be sequestered deep underground.

“It’s fear-mongering,” said Jessica Mazour, the Sierra Club of Iowa’s conservation program coordinator.

She said the groups don’t represent farmers along the route, many of whom are opposed to the project.

“Farmers can see right through” the report, she said. “It’s the ethanol and pipeline companies that stand to benefit from the projects, not farmers.”

The report says the cost of transporting corn outside the state would shave an average of 35 cents off the revenue from each bushel. The costs, called the basis, would vary across the state. For example, farmers in southwest farmers would lose an estimated 10 cents a bushel, while central Iowa farmers could lose up to 75 cents, the report says.

Corn averaged $6.45 a bushel statewide on Friday.

Overall, the cost to ship Iowa corn would climb nearly 80% to about $800 million a year due to decreased in-state demand, the report says.

Statewide, corn farmers would see net farm cash income decline by $1.1 billion, the report says. A farmer with 1,000 acres, growing corn on half, would lose about $43,000 each year. It would cut the farm’s gross income by 85%, the report says.

“You’re asking a farmer on the corn side to take an 85% pay cut,” said Monte Shaw, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s executive director.

David Miller, the chief economist at Decision Innovation Solutions, said there’s little doubt the pipelines would be built in Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota, given generous new clean-fuel tax credits for cutting the carbon emissions of ethanol and other fuels.


The tax credits, called 45Z for the section of federal tax code that contains them, could potentially provide ethanol companies about $165 per ton of sequestered carbon, Miller said.

Shaw said “45Z is huge,” with credits potentially totaling up to $1 per gallon of ethanol produced. Without it, many Iowa ethanol plants could close, he has said.

But a Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll, released last week, showed 78% of Iowans oppose the proposed use of state-granted eminent domain to secure land for the pipelines, as Summit and Navigator CO2 have proposed. Lawmakers have filed bills to severely restrict it, including House File 656, which would require developers to get voluntary agreements from 90% of the landowners in their projects’ path before they could seek eminent domain power.

Under the measure, pipeline companies also would have to wait for new federal rules, comply with local ordinances and secure permits in other states before they could build in Iowa.

Shaw called the bill “a de facto ban” on pipeline construction saying it would create “regulatory hurdles that in our view would be literally impossible to meet.”

“If the pipelines don’t go through Iowa,” he added, developers “will find the next best place to go.”


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