Our disciplined risk management strategy is designed to lock in operating margins by forward contracting the primary commodities involved in or derived from ethanol production: corn, natural gas, ethanol and distillers grains, along with the corn oil extracted prior to the production of distillers grains. We also seek to maintain an environment of continuous operational improvement to increase our efficiency and effectiveness as a low-cost producer of ethanol.
We review our operations within the following four separate operating segments:
- Ethanol Production. We operate a total of nine ethanol plants in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Tennessee, with approximately 740 mmgy of total ethanol production capacity. At capacity, these plants collectively will consume approximately 260 million bushels of corn and produce approximately 2.1 million tons of distillers grains annually.
- Corn Oil Production. We operate corn oil extraction systems at all nine of our ethanol plants, with the capacity to produce approximately 130 million pounds annually. The corn oil systems are designed to extract non-edible corn oil from the whole stillage process immediately prior to production of distillers grains. Industrial uses for corn oil include feedstock for biodiesel, livestock feed additives, rubber substitutes, rust preventatives, inks, textiles, soaps and insecticides.
- Marketing and Distribution. Our in-house marketing business is responsible for the sales, marketing and distribution of all ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil produced at our nine ethanol plants. We also market and distribute ethanol for third-party ethanol producers. Production capacity of these third-party producers is approximately 260 mmgy. Additionally, we own and operate nine blending or terminaling facilities with approximately 625 mmgy of total throughput capacity in seven south central U.S. states.
- Agribusiness. Our main line of business within our agribusiness segment is bulk grain storage. We believe our bulk grain business provides synergies with our ethanol production segment as it supplies a portion of the feedstock for our ethanol plants. In our bulk grain business, we have 3 grain elevators with approximately 7 million bushels of total storage capacity.
OUR GROWTH STRATEGY
We intend to continue to take a disciplined approach in evaluating new opportunities related to potential acquisition of additional ethanol plants by considering whether the plants fit within the design, engineering and geographic criteria we have developed. We also plan to continue to grow our downstream access to customers and are actively seeking new marketing opportunities with other ethanol producers. Additionally, we are a partner in a joint venture, BioProcess Algae LLC, formed to commercialize advanced photo-bioreactor technologies for the growing and harvesting of algal biomass.
OUR COMPETITIVE STRENGTHS
We believe we have created an efficient platform with diversified revenues and income streams. Fundamentally, we focus on managing commodity price risks, improving operating efficiencies and optimizing market opportunities. We believe our competitive strengths include:
Disciplined Risk Management. We believe risk management is a core competency of ours. Our primary focus is to lock in favorable operating margins whenever possible. We do not speculate on general price movements by taking unhedged positions on commodities such as corn, ethanol or natural gas. Our comprehensive risk management platform allows us to monitor real-time commodity price risk exposure at each of our plants, and to respond quickly to lock in acceptable margins or to temporarily reduce production levels at our ethanol plants during periods of compressed margins. By using a variety of risk management tools and hedging strategies, including our internally-developed real-time operating margin management system, we believe we are able to maintain a disciplined approach to risk management.
Focus on Operational Excellence. All of our plants are staffed by experienced industry personnel. We focus on incremental operational improvements to enhance overall production efficiencies and we share operational knowledge across our plants. Using real-time production data and control systems, we continually monitor our plants in an effort to optimize performance. We believe our ability to improve operating efficiencies provides an operating cost advantage over most of our competitors. In turn, we believe we are well positioned to increase operating margins for any facilities that we may acquire in the future.
Proven Management Team. Our senior management team averages over 22 years of commodity risk management and related industry experience. We have specific expertise across all aspects of the ethanol supply, production, and distribution chain – from agribusiness, to plant operations and management, to commodity markets and risk management, to ethanol marketing.
We intend to continue our focus on strengthening and diversifying our vertically-integrated platform by implementing or further acting upon the following growth strategies:
Pursue Consolidation Opportunities within the Ethanol Industry. We continue to focus on the potential acquisition of additional ethanol plants. In the past several years, we have been approached with opportunities to acquire existing ethanol plants. We believe those plants were available for a number of reasons including financial distress of a particular facility, a lack of operational expertise or a desire by existing owners to exit their original investment. We take a disciplined approach in evaluating new opportunities by considering whether the plants fit within the design, engineering and geographic criteria we have developed. We acquired one additional ethanol plant during 2011 that met our criteria. We believe that our integrated platform, plant operations experience and disciplined risk management approach give us the ability to generate favorable returns from our acquisitions.
Improve Operational Efficiency. We seek to enhance profitability at each of our plants by increasing our production volumes through operational improvements. We continually research operational processes that may increase our efficiency by increasing yields, lowering our processing cost per gallon and increasing our production volumes. Additionally, we employ an extensive cost control system at each of our plants to continuously monitor our plants’ performance. We are able to use performance data from our plants to develop strategies for cost reduction and efficiency that can be applied across our platform.
Invest in Next Generation Biofuel Opportunities. We plan to continue our investment in the BioProcess Algae joint venture, which is focused on commercialization of advanced photo-bioreactor technologies for the growing and harvesting of algal biomass which can be used as high-quality, low-cost feedstocks for human nutrition, animal feed and biofuels. We believe this technology has specific applications with facilities that emit carbon dioxide, including ethanol plants. Algae are currently grown in BioProcess Algae's Grower HarvesterTM reactors co-located with our Shenandoah, Iowa ethanol plant.