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:
Our ethanol production segment includes the production of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil at 17 ethanol plants in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. At capacity, we expect to process approximately 524 million bushels of corn per year and produce approximately 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol, 4.1 million tons of distillers grains and 340 million pounds of industrial grade corn oil, making us the second largest consolidated owner of ethanol plants in North America.
Agribusiness and Energy Services
Our agribusiness and energy services segment includes grain procurement, with approximately 60.3 million bushels of grain storage capacity, and our commodity marketing business, which markets, sells and distributes ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil produced at our ethanol plants. We also market ethanol for a third-party producer as well as buy and sell ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil, crude oil, grain, natural gas and other commodities in various markets.
Food and Food Ingredients
Our food and food ingredients segment includes a cattle feed lot operation with the capacity to support 73,000 head of cattle and grain storage capacity of approximately 2.8 million bushels, and Fleischmann's Vinegar, one of the world's largest producers of food-grade industrial vinegar.
Our master limited partnership provides fuel storage and transportation services by owning, operating, developing and acquiring ethanol and fuel storage tanks, terminals, transportation assets and other related assets and businesses. The partnership's assets include 39 ethanol storage facilities, 8 fuel terminal facilities and approximately 3,100 leased railcars.
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 significant 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 continuous 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 approximately 25 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 and distribution. We believe the level of operational and financial expertise of our management team will prove critical in successfully executing our business strategies.
Demonstrated Acquisition and Integration Capabilities
We believe U.S. ethanol production capacity is poised for further consolidation and have demonstrated the ability to make strategic acquisitions that we believe create synergies within our vertically integrated platform and enhance our ability to mitigate risks. Our balance sheet allows us to be opportunistic in that process. Since our inception, we have acquired or developed 17 ethanol plants in addition to upstream grain handling and storage businesses, a cattle-feeding operation and downstream terminal and distribution services. We have corn oil extraction technology at all of our ethanol plants to generate incremental returns from this value-added product. We believe such acquisitions, developments and improvements have been successfully integrated into our business and have enhanced our overall returns.
Leading Vertically Integrated Ethanol Producer
We believe our operations throughout the ethanol value chain reduce our commodity and operating risks, and increase our pricing visibility and influence in key markets. Combined, we believe our agribusiness, ethanol production, corn oil production, and marketing and distribution segments provide efficiencies across the ethanol value chain, from grain procurement to blending fuel. Our agribusiness operations help to reduce our supply risk by providing grain handling and storage capabilities. Using our logistical capabilities and expertise, we market and distribute ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil and other commodity products. Our corn oil systems are designed to extract non-edible corn oil that has multiple industrial uses. Our fuel terminals allow us to source, store, blend and distribute ethanol and biodiesel across multiple states.