Local ethanol plants among 20 nationwide to shut down

GARNETT, Kan. - What's been a quickly-growing industry is slowing down. The drought has left many ethanol plants across the country running on empty, with 20 of them shutting down across the country in the past year.

The East Kansas Agri-Energy ethanol plant in Garnett has been closed since Oct. 1, leaving 35 employees without a source of income.

"A lot of us saw it coming as the drought has effected everybody in multiple ways," employee Patricia Lamb said.

The only activity these days is a handful of workers keeping the factory in shape, in hopes of a Sept. 1 reopening.

"It's all about the supply of corn," East Kansas Agri-Energy board chair Bill Pracht said. "The corn availability on a normal year is, we can find all the corn we need in 75 miles. Last year we bought corn as far away as 135, 140 miles."

Pracht said that makes the grain too expensive to turn a profit. It's a common challenge for ethanol plants across the country, including one in Macon, Mo., which also recently halted production.

Pracht said good, timely rain can turn it all around.

"We need a good crop, but if we get 50 percent of our normal crop, this plant will be back open again," Pracht said.

Patricia Lamb said she and many of her co-workers are more than ready to be back on the job.

"The only thing I can do is pray and hope that we have some kind of rain," Lamb said.

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