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Ethanol plants struggling even more during pandemic

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Like many segments of the economy, the ethanol industry is also taking a hit during this pandemic. But there is a plan to help those businesses.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is working with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley on a bipartisan bill that would support biofuel producers who are being negatively affected by the pandemic.

"Rural Minnesota has been a centerpiece of my work and that's because I don't think our country can be strong without a strong rural America," said Klobuchar.

Klobuchar was disappointed there wasn't enough focus on agriculture in the CARES act.

"Prices have plummeted and so now we're to the point where we have more than 130 biofuel plants that are either closed or idling across the nation," said Klobuchar. "We've got a number in Minnesota that were closed. Fortunately, POET in Lake Crystal and AL-Corn in Claremont are operating, continuing to operate."

Rob Walther, Vice President of Federal Advocacy for POET Energy says his company is seeing a 31 percent drop in production.

"In addition to that we have stopped purchasing corn from our farmers," said Walther. "And so the entire ecosystem surrounding biofuels continues to shows severe economic hardship in these challenging times."

There are also pay cuts for workers.

"We're keeping people on the books, it's not at the levels we'd like to keep them at," said Walther. "So everyone who is living paycheck to paycheck is feeling this pain."

Al-Corn CEO Randy Doyal says his operation is also struggling.

"It has been tough for ethanol plants everywhere," said Doyal. "We've really felt it here in the state and we've struggled to get by. As you know, senator, we chose instead of shutting down, we tried to operate at a reduced rate and to produce ethanol for hand sanitizer so that we could get people back to work again."

The legislation Klobuchar is working on would require the USDA to reimburse biofuel producers for their feed stock purchases during the first three months of this year.

Sarah Gannon

Sarah Gannon

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