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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network. Learn more here.

Big Ethanol Player Files for Bankruptcy

ethanol_plant.jpg
Grant Gerlock/Harvest Public Media
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A Nebraska ethanol plant

A major player in the U.S. ethanol market is filing for bankruptcy, following pressure from Midwest corn suppliers who say they're owed millions of dollars. 

Abengoa produces grain ethanol here in the Midwest and it also built a cellulosic ethanol plant in Kansas to make fuel from grasses and other bio-products. So-called advanced biofuel hasn’t truly hit the market and Abengoa’s financial trouble further stalls cellulosic fuel’s potential.  

The company was poised to produce about 25 percent of the projected market, says Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson. He says if Abengoa’s problems can be resolved through debt restructuring, it could return to business more or less as usual. 

If, instead, the courts force Abengoa to liquidate assets, Swenson says the big question will be whether its cellulosic technology, which has not yet operated at a commercial scale, is sound.“If this is a viable technology,” Swenson said, “then this is an opportunity for somebody to buy something at something on the dollar that’s much less than one.”

Perhaps even more appealing than actual ethanol plants to a prospective investor, Swenson says, is the cellulosic technology itself, which companies hope eventually to license to others.

For now, Abengoa’s troubles should not have too big an impact on communities where it has plants. Swenson says the company has fewer than 500 employees in the United States. 

“You can be a major player in this industry, but you’re really not a great-big employer,” Swenson said. “You’re not having a great-big impact on the local economy as a consequence of maybe (the) restructuring or reorganizing this produces.”

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.