This blog is one in a series of stories celebrating diverse professionals who have been touched by the Great Plains Institute (GPI). Together – GPI’s spring 2020 fundraising campaign – showcases people who work in multiple industries and have various constituents and customers, but all play an important role in helping America transform its energy system.
Making a Clean Fuels Policy Possible for the Midwest
Name: Ron Alverson
Affiliations: Dakota Ethanol / The American Coalition for Ethanol / Carbon Harmony
Title: Retired Corn Farmer
An 11th generation American farmer, Ron Alverson is thrilled to partner with the Great Plains Institute (GPI) on moving forward a fuels- and technology-neutral, GREET-informed, clean fuels policy for the economies and livelihoods of the Midwestern United States.
Ron has been a passionate advocate of farming’s role in helping America reduce carbon emissions since the very beginning of his career. Born into a family that has farmed in South Dakota since 1879, Ron credits his professors at South Dakota State University in the 1970s with encouraging him to build back up the carbon in his soil. The purpose of this advocacy by soil science educators was not only to increase the yields of crops and the economic productivity of farms—it was also to limit global warming. While Ron may be retired from farming, he remains active as an advocate in the industry.
Ron was introduced to GPI in 2018 when the American Coalition of for Ethanol (ACE) published The Case for Properly Valuing the Low Carbon Benefits of Corn Ethanol. This paper caught the attention of Brendan Jordan, GPI vice president of transportation and fuels, as he was developing GPI’s strategy to widely scale clean fuels adoption in the US. ACE’s white paper includes a case study of the Alverson family’s three-decades-long investment to reduce their farm’s carbon footprint. Given his background, Ron became a natural participant in GPI’s multi-industry clean fuels advocacy.
Ron’s Journey from Farming to Fuel
As a long-time corn grower, Ron became interested in the potential for ethanol as a new market for the corn that he grew on his family’s 2,700-acre farm. In 2001, he became a founder of Dakota Ethanol, an ethanol producer located in eastern South Dakota and a business in which he remains active today. Ron’s work in ethanol led him to think more broadly about the fuels and transportation end uses of the starch and oil byproducts of America’s massive corn and soybean industries, whose primary goal is to meet the protein demand of the global human diet.
The link between farming and transportation is a natural path for Ron to share his know-how about zero-carbon farming and scale zero-carbon corn farming techniques. The Alversons started Carbon Harmony, an education platform that disseminates the results of their approach to reach their zero-carbon goals. Zero-carbon corn production is a win-win: it’s good for the Alversons’ business and for the planet. The next step for the mass adoption of zero-carbon farming is having government quantify and recognize the low carbon benefits of these techniques to incentivize more farmers to use them.
A Powerful Organization, Focused on the Big Picture, Doing the Right Things
One of GPI’s distinguishing factors for Ron is how the organization works “broadly on how to improve the Midwest.” GPI uses its energy and climate expertise to drive a holistic approach that is inclusive of people’s livelihoods and economic aspirations. Ron thinks that GPI can accomplish this because of the organization’s strong “science orientation.” A grounding in science and objectivity is what allows for GPI to build broad coalitions and networks.
In the case of clean fuels, the network includes not only ethanol producers and agricultural interests, it also includes electric utilities, automobile manufacturers, and environmental organizations. While these organizations possess distinct goals, they all support the big picture of what needs to be done to create an economy with a zero-carbon transportation sector.
This is why Ron trusts and works with GPI. As a corn farmer who built multi-generational economic sustainability, Ron is a testament to corn’s ability to deliver results. While Ron believes that some criticisms of corn, and therefore ethanol, have validity, at the end of the day corn is an American success story. Corn feeds billions of people and provides livelihoods to hundreds of thousands more. Corn’s next chapter must be putting the 90 million acres of American land devoted to corn production to work on meeting our climate goals. This is another area where corn can yield results for society. GPI’s understanding of successful technologies and industry practices – like corn – is what makes GPI a trusted partner to commercial organizations and allows for the Alversons to lend their voice, and credibility, to GPI’s mission of transforming the energy system for both the economy and environment.
We hope that you enjoyed learning about how the Great Plains Institute is a vital partner in Ron’s quest to incentivize America’s farmers to scale zero-carbon farming and help us reach our climate goals. We invite you to support this continued work. Now through June 30 Madison Gas and Electric will match all gifts up to $15,000 through our Together campaign.