Visiting with Brian Kletscher of Highwater Ethanol
“We had 25 or 30 potential names up on a marker board during site planning back in 2006,” recalls Brian Kletscher, CEO of Highwater Ethanol when asked about the company name. “Nearby Highwater Township provided a well that ensured us a dependable water supply. That name stuck. It meant something to everyone.”
Next August, the Lamberton ethanol plant with 59.5 million gallons of capacity will celebrate 10 years of operation. Kletscher has been there every step along the way–from its inception and forming a board in 2006 to being promoted in 2008 to CEO, the position he holds today.
As a dairy farm kid from Vesta, he farmed for 30 years prior to his work in renewable fuels. Yet Brian also served a dozen years on the Redwood County Board of Commissioners and has had plenty of experience working the halls of government in Saint Paul.
Today, Highwater Ethanol represents 1,450 investor-owners and buys corn on the open market. That corn, totaling 21 to 22 million bushels every year, comes in from a tight 20-mile radius around Lamberton. It is important to note Redwood County (pop. 15,272) is a ‘net exporter’ of corn. That means even with an ethanol plant as a major value-added economic generator, area farmers are still exporting half of their corn crop each year.
In addition to nearly 60 million gallons of fuel ethanol annually, Highwater makes 145,000 tons of dried distillers grains (DDGs) livestock feed. Every year, the plant also produces between 12 and 13 million pounds of corn oil.
The last couple of years have been tough for the U.S. ethanol industry and the agriculture sector, in general. An ongoing U.S-China trade war is hampering exports and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to issue an unprecedented number of waivers to oil companies, which exempt them from blending requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard.
However, Kletscher remains rational about the future, “We’ve proven the U.S. can successfully export fuel ethanol as well as our DDGs. If China comes in, that’s great! If not, other countries want our products. Last year set an export record and I see that trend continuing.”
Brian is a maker of renewable fuel, but he is also a father and consumer. “Today, our cars and fuels have improved a lot and part of the solution has been Minnesota’s decades-long use of ethanol. As a young man driving into the Twin Cities, I remember the worsening air quality there. You could see it! Yeah, I encourage everyone to use ethanol-based fuels, whether its E15 or flex fuels like E30 or E85. Renewables provide such a huge economic benefit to our country as well as an air quality improvement.” He adds, “Too often, people seem unaware or have forgotten that.”