As the calendar inches closer to January 1, 2025 - the day that the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) 45Z Clean Fuel Production Credit officially begins—let's imagine for a moment that the US Treasury’s full guidance has been released. With the delivery of that guidance, let us also consider the scenario where GREET-based on-farm corn carbon intensity (CI) scoring IS a recognized component of the “technology neutral” solutions available to reduce ethanol CI scores and capture that $0.02/gal/CI point reduction tax credit.   

Immediately, ethanol stakeholders will be asking “are we prepared for 45Z?” 

At the heart of answering this preparedness query lies an equally crucial question: “do we understand our key corn suppliers' CI scores?” 

For most, a thorough and affirmative response will be difficult to find. After all, an average ethanol plant has hundreds of individual farmer-suppliers, thousands of corn fields from which their feedstocks originate, and millions of individual bushels to attribute scores to, each with its own unique set of production data points. The journey to understand those CI scores can seem wildly-complex and insurmountable, but fortunately there is a proven template for preparing your corn supplier network for CI scoring.

The first step to capturing those CI insights is recognizing that accurate CI scoring requires a collaborative effort between the plant and its suppliers. No off-the shelf software, imagery service, or grower-survey captures the essential production nuances which live in the mind of a farmer-operator. Engaging directly with your corn suppliers to gather and evaluate data pertaining to their CI scores is essential. Transparency and open communication are key components in this process. If your corn-suppliers don't understand the “why” behind this data capture and see their trusted grain-buyers as partners—not adversaries—in this new 45Z era, a feedstock CI scoring effort will not succeed. And if they don't see you as their partner to capture 45Z value, someone else is going to fill that role. 

The responsibility doesn't end with collaboration however. Your farmer-facing commercial teams must be well-versed in CI conversations. It's not just about understanding the numbers; it's about effectively communicating the significance of CI scoring to your suppliers. Education becomes paramount, as the entire supply chain needs to align with the goals of reducing CI. Equipping your team with the knowledge and comfort required to navigate these conversations fosters a collaborative environment, paving the way for successful implementation.

Beyond internal readiness, the importance of external partnerships cannot be overstated. Having a trusted third-party in place is crucial for executing both pilot and commercial projects. Farmers are being asked to share tremendous quantities of complex data and the ethanol plant is being expected to become an expert in CI scoring, emissions tracking, and sustainability assessment. These qualities land far outside the standard job description for either party, and trusted partnerships not only ensure accurate measurement takes place but also provides the essential industry-wide insights required for continuous improvement.

In a few short weeks, corn planters will begin to put the 2024 crop in the ground, a crop who’s CI scores could likely be the difference in qualifying for 45Z or missing the 2025 for credit altogether. So ask your team, “are we prepared for 45Z?” And if the answer is anything besides a resounding yes, it's time to get your key partners on the phone.