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Growers see ‘great opportunity’ with Vireol
By JONATHAN CRIBBS
HOPEWELL, Va. (Sept. 9, 2014)— More than 40 grain producers from Virginia and Maryland toured the new Vireol Bio Energy ethanol plant last month, giving curious growers a peek at a facility that will produce more than 60 million gallons a year while establishing itself as a significant new grain purchaser in the Delmarva area.
“I think it’s a great opportunity because it’s the only ethanol plant on the East Coast, and it’s the most modern,” said Sparky Crossman, president of the Virginia Grain Producers Association’s board and a grower from Mt. Holly, “If they can do multiple crops, that’s definitely going to be a benefit to the grain farmer.”
Vireol, which re-opened the plant in April, is only taking corn at the moment, company CEO Peter McGenity said.
It will eventually consider the feasibility of processing wheat and barley, which can be double-cropped, and the plant is also capable of turning sorghum and milo into ethanol, he said.
“We want to walk before we run,” McGenity said. “The plant here is probably the best — I don’t believe I’m overstating it — the best in the U.S.”
Vireol purchased the plant — formerly known as the Osage Bio Energy ethanol plant — in January 2013 for about $13 million.
Its previous owners were focused on processing barley, an odd choice that failed, McGenity said.
Vireol initially planned to move the plant to England but decided to keep it in Virginia and focus on corn after a Harvard University study showed its viability.
The Scoular Co., an Omaha, Neb., firm, has partnered with Vireol to acquire grains from and develop relationships with local growers.
Most of the plant’s ethanol is shipped to Richmond-area mixers in the production of gasoline. The Richmond area alone consumes about 110 million gallons of ethanol per year, McGenity said, and the state consumes about 410 million gallons.
“For farmers in the Delmarva, it’s great to have options, right?” said Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade organization. “They’re not completely held hostage by Mr. Perdue [which also purchases grain]. I say that flippantly. It’s a value-added market opportunity for them, and I think it’s going to be a great thing.”
Vireol has plenty of room to grow as well, said Ben Rowe, managing director of the Virginia Grain Producers Association, who attended the tour.
“This increases demand for grain in Virginia and Maryland as well,” Rowe said, adding that the tour “just gives growers an idea of what their corn is being used for as an end product.”