The global economy comes to Sharon
I've never had a hard time finding parking in downtown Sharon before. But a week ago, on Nov. 24, the street outside the village hall was as packed with cars as the room inside was packed with local residents.
They were there to hear about a proposal to build an ethanol plant just outside the village.
As Mike Heine describes in this week's cover story, the plant will be one of the biggest in the state and is just the latest in what appears to be a boom in ethanol production in this part of the state.
While the presentation focused on why Sharon was good for an ethanol plant and why an ethanol plant would be good for Sharon, the ripple effect of this project could remake the agriculture economy in Walworth County.
For example, what would an ethanol plant do to the price of soy sauce?
Jeffrey Knight, one of the partners in Global Renewable, LLC, made the pitch that the increased demand for corn would improve the price farmers would get for corn in the area.
However, many area farmers provide soybeans to the Kikkoman soy sauce plant in Walworth. If farmers switch from beans to corn, will that drive up the price of beans?
And what about growing capacity? As we all know, land is at a premium in Walworth County. I doubt we'll ever see non-agricultural land returned to productive farmland to grow corn, but will the increased demand for corn help preserve the farmland in production that we already have?
Knight says the finished product from the plant is destined for East Coast markets. The market for bio fuels, however, is growing even in our own back yards.
Coincidentally, I found out that I've been a potential ethanol customer for years, although I didn't know it until last weekend.
I was filling up my wife's minivan at the gas station, when I noticed the label on the gas cap. It's a flex fuel vehicle.
That means I can fill the tank with either unleaded gas or E85 fuel, which is a mixture of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent unleaded.
We've had the vehicle for five years, and I never noticed it would run on ethanol. It also gives me another alternative fuel option while I consider a veggie car conversion (See "Vegetation Transportation" in the Oct. 29 edition.)
Realistically, large facilities like this are rarely embraced unanimously.
Former Gov. Tommy Thompson, another partner in the company, alluded to as much in his remarks.
After all the planning and meetings are done, if the community doesn't want the plant, "we'll go somewhere else," Thompson said.
So residents and community leaders need to apply the lessons that other communities learned after deciding on ethanol projects of their own.
I'm guessing it's a good time to be in farming in Walworth County, although with any economic shift, there are winners and losers.
Let's hope that with good planning and the commitment to the community that the partners in Global Renewable expressed, that Walworth County will be one of the winners.
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