A group of visitors from Mexico were in Grand Island Thursday to see the area’s ethanol production.

The 22 visitors represent various aspects of the ethanol industry in Mexico. They were in Grand Island to get an up-close and personal look at the Nebraska ethanol industry, including a visit to a farm, a tour of the Chief Industries ethanol plant in Hastings, the blending terminal in Doniphan, and a visit to Bosselman’s in Grand Island, the state’s largest seller of blended ethanol products.

The idea of the visit, according to Jeff Wilkerson, director of market development for the Nebraska Corn Board, was to give the visitors from Mexico a comprehensive view of the state’s ethanol industry and infrastructure.

Wilkerson said the visit will give them ideas to take back home to aid in the development of their ethanol industry and infrastructure, along with fostering better trade relations between the U.S. and Mexico, the biggest buyer of U.S. corn and Nebraska’s biggest trading partner, along with Canada.

The visitors were here following the recent global ethanol conference held in Washington, D.C. After the conference, the U.S. Grain Council sponsored trips for the various delegations from throughout the world to visit the U.S. ethanol industry and get an up-close look.

Nebraska is the nation’s second-largest producer of ethanol, with more than 2 billion gallons produced annually. An important byproduct of ethanol production is distiller’s grain, which is a popular feed supplement for livestock and a growing farm export. Nearly 700 million bushels of Nebraska corn is used for ethanol production at the state’s 25 ethanol plants, many of which are located in Central Nebraska in communities such as Hastings, Aurora, Wood River, Ravenna and Albion.

Wilkerson said the Mexican delegation’s visit was from Wednesday through Friday.

“Mexico is already our biggest trading partner when it comes to corn, and we think ethanol has a potential to be a big market down there,” he said. “We also sell a lot of distiller’s grain to Mexico.”

What makes this trip important, Wilkerson said, is that currently Mexico allows sale of pre-blended E10 in most of the country, but not in Mexico’s three largest cities, including Mexico City, which is home to nearly 23 million people.

“We are trying to help Mexico get ethanol so it can be widespread in their country,” he said.

Wilkerson said if those large cities were to start using an E10 blend, it would be a huge market. Nearly all of Nebraska’s ethanol is exported, with 94% of the product being shipped out of state, making Nebraska one of the largest exporters of bioenergy. In addition, 51% of dried distiller’s grain produced in 2015, and 44% in 2016, shipped out of state.

“We have corn producers who are very efficient and produce a reliable crop every year,” he said. “Ethanol’s potential in Mexico is very high and the environmental potential, especially in a city like Mexico City where the pollution is high, it would be a very good match down there.”

Leading the delegation was Stephan Wittig, the U.S. Grain Council’s Mexico director.

Wittig said the purpose of the tour was to show all the “advantages and benefits when it comes to not just improving air quality, but being able to make the gasoline cheaper for the consumer and the great benefit to the agricultural industry.”

The U.S. is the world’s largest ethanol exporter, with Canada and Brazil its largest markets for ethanol. More than 20% of the U.S.’s 16.1 billion gallons of ethanol produced last year was exported. Last year, Mexico was one of the top markets — close to a fifth of all shipments from the U.S. headed there.

Wittig said the visit has been going well so far.

“Many of them had never visited a farm,” he said. “They are becoming closer to the whole supply chain by learning how it impacts all the lives from the beginning of the process.”

One of the Mexican delegates is a leader in the country’s energy industry.

Wittig said the visit helps the delegation better understand the whole process of how ethanol is produced, from the farm to the ethanol plant to the blending station to the filling station.

“Our potential market in Mexico is already 720 million gallons per year,” he said. “If you were to add Mexico’s three largest cities, that would represent a market of 1.2 billion gallons per year.”

Wittig said Mexico’s largest constraint right now is infrastructure. The right investments would help Mexico increase its ability to blend more ethanol with gasoline and allow more filling stations to sell the blended product.

The visit to Bosselman Enterprises was a key stop on the delegation’s visit.

Bosselman has been a pioneer since the 1970s in bringing blended ethanol products to the consumer. Recently, it has expanded the number of ethanol blended products at its Pump & Pantry stores, selling E10 to E85 blends, including the recently approved E15 blend that can be used in most vehicles.

Charlie Bosselman, president of the company, said it was a great privilege to host the delegation.

“It is interesting to learn what is going on in the different countries when it comes to ethanol and the different problems they are having,” Bosselman said.

Many of the problems facing Mexico in growing its ethanol industry, he said, are similar to ones his company faced in helping Nebraska expand its ethanol industry.

“Maybe some of the solutions they are looking for are the same that we are looking for and maybe there is something we can help each other with,” Bosselman said.

Bosselman Enterprises is Nebraska’s largest retailer of E15 and one of the Midwest’s largest blenders of renewable fuels. The company was one of the early supporters of E15 by adding infrastructure at multiple locations to allow consumers a choice in filling their fueling needs.

“We have been very involved in ethanol for many years,” he said. “It is interesting hearing them talk that it was similar to us back in the ’70s when ethanol first hit the market. Maybe we can help by giving them some information that helped us and opened the door to the ethanol industry for everybody else.”

Bosselman said helping develop the ethanol industry in Mexico helps Nebraska farmers develop a new market for their product.

“It will benefit not only Mexico, but Nebraska,” he said.

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