Green Plains Inc.
Green Plains Inc. (Form: 10-K, Received: 02/10/2015 17:09:07)

 

UNITED STATES SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

 

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2014

or

 

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the transition period from ____ to _____

 

Commission file number 001-32924

 

Green Plains Inc.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

 

Iowa

84-1652107

(State or other jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)

(I.R.S. Employer Identification No.)

 

 

450 Regency Parkway, Suite 400, Omaha, NE 68114

(402) 884-8700

(Address of principal executive offices, including zip code)

(Registrant s telephone number, including area code)

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:  Common Stock, $.001 par value

Name of exchanges on which registered: NASDAQ Stock Market

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:  None

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.

Yes  No

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.

Yes  No

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes  No

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files).

Yes  No

 

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.  .  

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer or a smaller reporting company. See definition of large accelerated filer,   accelerated filer and smaller reporting company in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer .      Accelerated filer .      Non-accelerated filer        Smaller reporting company  

 

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Act). Yes  No

 

The aggregate market value of the Company s voting common stock held by non-affiliates of the registrant as of June 30, 2014 (the last business day of the second quarter), based on the last sale price of the common stock on that date of $32.87, was approximat ely $ 1.1 bill ion . For purposes of this calculation, executive officers, directors and holders of 10% or more of the registrant’s comm on stock are deemed to be affiliates of the registrant.

 

As of February 5, 2015, t here   we re 37,608,982 shares of the registrant’s common stock outstanding.

 

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

 

Portions of the registrant s definitive Proxy Statement for the 20 15 Annual Meeting of Shareholders are incorporated by reference in Part III herein. The Company intends to file such Proxy Statement with the Securities and Exchange   Commission no later than 120 days after the end of the period covered by this report on Form 10-K.

 


 

 

 

 

       TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Page

 

PART I

 

 

 

 

Item 1.

Business.

1

 

 

 

Item 1A.

Risk Factors.

16

 

 

 

Item 1B.

Unresolved Staff Comments.

32

 

 

 

Item 2.

Properties.

32

 

 

 

Item 3.

Legal Proceedings.

32

 

 

 

Item 4.

Mine Safety Disclosures.

32

 

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

 

 

Item 5.

Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities.

33

 

 

 

Item 6.

Selected Financial Data.

35

 

 

 

Item 7.

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.

36

 

 

 

Item 7A.

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk.

54

 

 

 

Item 8.

Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

56

 

 

 

Item 9.

Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure.

56

 

 

 

Item 9A.

Controls and Procedures.

56

 

 

 

Item 9B.

Other Information.

59

 

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

 

 

Item 10.

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance.

59

 

 

 

Item 11.

Executive Compensation.

59

 

 

 

Item 12.

Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters.

59

 

 

 

Item 13.

Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence.

59

 

 

 

Item 14.

Principal Accounting Fees and Services.

59

 

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

 

 

Item 15.

Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules.

60

 

 

 

Signatures.  

69

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Cautionary Infor mation Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

 

The Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC , encourages companies to disclose forward-looking information so that investors can better understand a company’s future prospects and make informed investment decisions. This report contains such “forward-looking statements” within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements may be made directly in this report , and they may also be made a part of this report by reference to other documents filed with the SEC, which is known as “incorporation by reference.”

 

This report contains forward-looking statements based on current expectations that involve a number of risks and uncertainties. Forward-looking statements generally do not relate strictly to historical or current facts, but rather to plans and objectives for future operations based upon management’s reasonable estimates of future results or trends, and include statements preceded by, followed by, or that include words such as “anticipates,” “believes,” “continue,” “estimates,” “expects,” “intends,” “outlook,” “plans,” “predicts,” “may,” “could,” “should,” “will,” and words and phrases of similar impact, and include, but are not limited to, statements regarding future operating or financial performance, business strategy, business environment, key trends, and benefits of actual or planned acquisitions. In addition, any statements that refer to expectations, projections or other characterizations of future events or circumstances, including any underlying assumptions, are forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements are made pursuant to safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Although we believe that our expectations regarding future events are based on reasonable assumptions, a ny or all forward-looking statements in this report may turn out to be incorrect. They may be based on inaccurate assumptions or may not account for known or unknown risks and uncertainties. Consequently, no forward-looking statement is guaranteed, and actual future results may vary materially from the results expressed or implied in our forward-looking statements. The cautionary statements in this report expressly qualify all of our forward-looking statements. In addition, we are not obligated, and do not intend, to update any of our forward-looking statements at any time unless an update is required by applicable securities laws. Factors that could cause actual results to differ from those expressed or implied in the forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, those discussed in the section entitled Risk Factors” in this report or in any document incorporated by reference . Specifically, we may experience significant fluctuations in future operating results due to a number of economic conditions, including, but not limited to, competition in the ethanol and other industries in which we operate , commodity market risks, financial market risks, counter-party risks, risks associated with changes to federal policy or regulation, risks related to closing and achieving anticipated results from acquisitions, and other risk factors detailed in our reports filed with the SEC. Actual results may differ from projected results due, but not limited, to unforeseen developments.

 

In light of these assumptions, risks and uncertainties, the results and events discussed in the forward-looking statements contained in this report or in any document incorporated by reference might not occur. Investors are cautioned not to place undue reliance on the forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this report or the date of the document incorporated by reference in this report . We are not under any obligation, and we expressly disclaim any obligation, to update or alter any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.

 

PART I

 

Item 1.  Business.

 

Overview

 

References to “we,” “us,” “our,” “Green Plains,” or the “Company” in this report refer to Green Plains Inc., an Iowa corporation founded in June 2004, and its subsidiaries.

 

We are a Fortune 1000 , vertically-integrated producer, marketer and distributor of ethanol focused on generating stable operating margins through our diversified business segments and our risk management strategy. We believe that owning and operating strategically-located assets throughout the ethanol value chain enables us to mitigate changes in commodity prices and differentiates us from companies focused only on ethanol production. W e have operations throughout the ethanol value chain, beginning upstream with our grain handling and storage operations, continuing through our ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil production operations , and end ing dow nstream with our marketing, terminal and distribution services. Follo wing is our visual presentation of the ethanol value chain:

 

 

 

 

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O ur 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 , distillers grains and corn oil . We also seek to maintain a safe 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:

 

·

Ethanol Production.  We are North America’s fourth largest ethanol producer. We operate twelve ethanol plants in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Tennessee. We have the capacity to consume approximately 360 million bushels of corn pe r year and produce over   one   b illion gallons of ethanol and approximately 2.9 million tons of distillers grains annually.

·

Corn Oil Production.  We operate corn oil extraction systems at our ethanol plants, with the capacity to produce approximately 250 million pounds annually. The corn oil systems are designed to extract non-edible corn oil, a value-added product, from th e whole stillage immediately prior to production of distillers grains. Industrial uses for corn oil include feedstock for biodiesel, livestock feed additives, rubber substitutes, rust preventatives, inks, textiles, soaps and insecticides.

·

Agribusiness.  Within our bulk grain business, we have grain storage capacity of approximately 42.2 million bushels. Our cattle feedlot operation has the capacity to support approximately 70,000 head of cattle. We believe our agribusiness operations provide synergies with our ethanol production segment as it supplies a portion of the feedstock and utilizes a portion of the distillers grains output of our ethanol plants.

·

Marketing and Distribution.  Our in-house marketing business is responsible for the sale, marketing and distribution of all ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil produced at our ethanol plants. We also market and provide logistical services for ethanol and other commodities for a third-party producer. We purchase and sell ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil, grain, natural gas and other commodities and participate in other merchant trading activities in various markets .   Additionally, we operate eight fuel terminals with approximately 822 million gallons per year, or mmgy , of total throughput capacity in seven south central U.S. states .   To optimize the value of our assets, we utilize a portion of our leased railcar fleet to transport crude oil for third parties.

In June 2014, we acquired the assets of a cattle-feeding business near Kismet, Kansas, which includes a feedlot and grain storage facilities. The operation, which is part of our agribusiness segment, consists of approximately 2,600 acres of land, which has the capacity to support 70,000 head of cattle, and approximately 3.8 million bushels of grain storage capacity.

 

In June 2013, we acquired an ethanol plant located in Atkinson, Nebraska with the capacity to produce approximately 50 mmgy. We began operations at the ethanol plant early in the third quarter of 2013. Corn oil extraction technology was installed at the plant late in the fourth quarter of 2013. Also, in June 2013, we acquired a grain elevator in Archer, Nebraska. In November 2013, we acquired two ethanol plants, located in Wood River, Nebraska and Fairmont, Minnesota, with combined annual production capacity of approximately 230 mmgy. The Fairmont, Minnesota plant, which was not operational at the time of its acquisition, began operations in January 2014 upon completion of certain maintenance and enhancement projects.

 

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 meet our design, engineering, valuation and geographic criteria. We believe certain expansion projects could be implemented at our ethanol plants that have the potential to utilize the

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strategic location and capacity of these assets and cost effectively increase our annual production. In our marketing and distribution segment, our strategy is to build or acquire additional fuel terminals, expand our marketing efforts by entering into new or renewed contracts with other ethanol producers and realize additional profit margins by optimizing our commodity logistics. In 2013, we began to implement a plan to realign our agribusiness operations by adding grain storage capacity located at or near our ethanol plants to take advantage of our current infrastructure and enhance our corn origination and trading capabilities. We intend to continue to add grain storage capacity with the goal of owning approximately 50 million bushels of total storage capacity by the end of 2015. We also intend to pursue opportunities to develop or acquire additional grain elevators, specifically those located near our ethanol plants. We believe that owning additional grain handling and storage operations in close proximity to our ethanol plants enables us to strengthen relationships with local corn producers, allowing us to source corn more effectively and at a lower average cost. We will also consider acquisitions of additional cattle feedlot operations. We also own approxim ately 63% of BioProce ss Algae LLC, which was formed to commercialize advanced photo-bioreactor technologies for growing and harvesting 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.

 

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 dev eloped twelve ethanol plants in addition to upstream grain handling and storage businesses , a cattle-feeding operati on and downstream terminal and distribution services . We installed corn oil extraction technology at each 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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Our Business   Strategies

 

We intend to continue our focus on strengthening and diversifying our vertically-integrated platform by implementing or continuing the following growth strategies:

 

Pursue Attractive Organic Growth Opportunities.  We believe certain expansion projects could be implemented at our ethanol plants that have the potential to utilize the strategic location and capacity of these assets and cost effectively increase our annual production. We also intend to increase the grain storage capacity at our ethanol plants to take advantage of our existing infrastructure as well as strengthen relationships with local corn producers, allowing us to source corn more effectively and at a lower average cost. We intend to pursue opportunities to develop additional grain elevators at or near our ethanol plants. Since all of our plants are located within or near the corn belt where a number of competitors also have ethanol facilities, we believe that owning grain elevators provides us with a competitive advantage in the procurement of corn supplies.

 

Purs ue Accretive Acquisitions and Consolidation Opportunities. We continue to focus on the potential acquisition of additional ethanol plants and grain elevators. In the p ast several years, we have been approached with opportunities to acquire ethanol plants. We believe those plants were available for a number of reasons including financial distress of a particular facility, a lack of operational expertise or a desire by existing owners to exit their original investment. We take a disciplined approach in evaluating new opportunities by considering whether the plants or grain elevators fit within our design, engineering, financial and geographic criteria. We believe that our integrated platform, plant operations experience and disciplined risk management approach give us the ability to generate favorable returns from chosen acquisitions.

 

Expand Marketing and Distribution Activities.  We plan to continue expanding our downstream access to customers and seeking opportunities to arbitrage markets with minimal risk allocation. We currently participate in ethanol logistic, transload services and continually seek opportunities to expand the capacity of these facilities through organic growth. We intend to seek acquisition of fuel terminal facilities that involve conventional, as well as renewable, fuels.  We believe the expansion of our capacity will encourage the distribution of blended fuel and enable us to continue to capitalize on our vertically-integrated platform.

 

Conduct Safe, Reliable, Efficient Operations and Improve Operational Efficiency.  We are committed to maintaining the safety, reliability, environmental compliance and efficiency of our operations. All of our assets are staffed by experienced industry personnel. We will also continue to focus on incremental operational improvements to enhance overall production results. We continually research operational processes that may increase our efficiency by increasing yields, lowering processing cost per gallon and increasing production volumes. Additionally, we employ an extensive production control system at each plant to continuously monitor its performance. We are able to use the plants’ performance data to develop strategies for cost reduction and efficiency that can be applied across our platform.

 

Invest in Adjacent Businesses to Take Advantage of Our Competencies.  In June 2014, we acquired the assets of a cattle-feeding busin ess near Kismet, Kansas. We plan to continue to seek acquisitions of adjacent businesses, including additional feedlots, that will allow us to apply our commodity processing and trading expertise as a competitive advantage in selected agricultural and energy markets. We believe we have specialized knowledge, existing processes and an expandable infrastructure that can be successfully applied to other business operations that involve commodity processing. In addition, we are continuing our investment in the BioProcess Algae joint venture, which is focused on the commercialization of advanced photo-bioreactor technologies for the growing and harvesting of algal biomass, which can be used as high-quality feedstocks with a number of high-value applications in human nutrition, pharmaceutical applications, animal feed, chemicals and biofuels. We believe this technology has specific applications for facilities that emit carbon dioxide, including ethanol plants.

 

Ethanol Indu stry Overview  

 

Ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol) is a clear, colorless liquid made by fermenting and distilling material, usually from plants. The ethanol we produce is fuel grade, principally from the starch extracted from corn, and is primarily used in the blending of gasoline. In the United States, corn is the most common product used to produce ethanol. One bushel of corn produces about 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17 pounds of distillers’ grains, a high-protein livestock feed for our food supply. To reduce corn transportation costs, most ethanol plants are located near areas where corn is grown; therefore the majority of U.S. ethanol plants are located in the midwestern region, commonly referred to as the corn belt. Outside the Unites States, including Brazil, sugarcane is the primary feedstock used in ethanol production.

 

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The fuel ethanol industry is a key component of the biofuels industry. Biofuels are transportation fuels that are derived from renewable biological materials and are typically blended with gasoline, diesel fuel and other petroleum-based transportation fuels as they are a good source for oxygenates and octanes. When added to petroleum-based transportation fuels, oxygenates enable a cleaner-burning fuel, thereby reducing tailpipe pollution and carbon monoxide emissions. Oxygenates are not only utilized for their vehicle emission benefits , but also for their blending properties in motor gasoline as a fuel extender and a fuel enhancer as an octane booster. Globally, including within in the United States, ethanol is an economical source of both oxygenate and octane for blending into the fuel supply.

 

The ethanol industry is growing worldwide as ethanol production is cost competitive with gasoline. Additionally, due to its environmental and economic benefits, approximately 30 countries either mandate or incentivize ethanol and bio-diesel blending for motor fuels. These policies are often motivated partly by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or air pollution and part ly by the desire to be less dependent on oil imports. The worldwide fuel ethanol industry has grown significantly over the past decade, with annual reported production increasing from approximately 5.0 billion gallons in 2001 to approximately 23.4 billion gallons in 2013, accor ding to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or E IA. Furthermore, the United States and Brazil are the two largest producers and exporters of ethanol in the world. Over the same time frame, the U.S. ethanol industry grew from 1.8 billion gallons to 13.3 billion gallons. Today, ethanol comprises approx imately 10% of the U.S. gasoline market.

 

In the United States , ethanol is mandated by the federal government. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, uses renewable identification numbers, or RINs , to tra ck renewable transportation fuels and to monitor compliance with the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS, a federal program that requires transportation fuels sold in the United States to contain minimum volumes of renewable fuels. The RFS program assigns obligated parties (fuel refiners, blenders and importers) a renewable volume obligation. The renewable volume obligation for each party is the volume of renewable fuels it is obligated to sell, based on a percentage of the company's total fuel sales, and is met by blending a certain quota of renewable fuel, such as ethanol, into gasoline. Obligated parties utilize RINs to track and show proof of compliance that they have met their RFS-mandated volumes. RINs are bought and sold among obligated parties and producers to fulfill quotas of renewable fuels during the blending process. Parties that produce or own RINs must register with the EPA and comply with RINs record and reporting guidelines on a quarterly basis.

 

We believe ethanol , as a proportion of global transportation fuels, will continue to remain   consistent, or potentially increas e,   due to a continuing focus on reducing reliance on petroleum-based transportation fuels. Contributing factors include volatile oil prices, heightened environmental concerns, energy independence and national security concerns. We believe ethanol’s high octane value, environmental benefits , ability to improve gasoline performance, fuel supply extender capabilities, attractive production economics and favorable government policies could enable ethanol to com prise an increas ingly larger portion of the global fuel supply, as described more fully below:

·

Emissions Reducti on.  Ethanol demand increased substantially in the 1990’s, when federal law began requiring the use of oxygenates in reformulated gasoline in cities with unhealthy levels of air pollution on a seasonal or year-round basis. These oxygenates included ethanol and methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE , which reduce vehicle emissions when blended with gasoline .   O xygenated gasoline is used in order to help meet separate federal and state air emission standards. In the United States, t he refining industry has all but abandoned the use of   MTBE , making ethanol the primary clean air oxygenate currently used.

·

Octane Enhancer.  Ethanol, with an octane rating of 113, is used to increase the octane value of gasoline with which it is blended, thereby improving engine performance. It is used as an octane enhancer both for producing regular grade gasoline from lower octane blending stocks and for upgrading regular gasoline to pr emium grades. The domestic gasoline market continues to evolve as refiners are producing more conventional blendstocks for oxygenate blending, or CBOB. According to data gathered by the EIA, CBOB represents approximately 80% of total conventional gasoline sold in 2014. CBOB is an 84 octane sub-grade gasoline, which requires ethanol or other octane sources to meet the minimum octane rating requirements for the U.S. gasoline market. Ethanol has become the primary additive used by refiners to increase octane levels.

·

Fuel Stock Extender.  Ethanol is a valuable blend component that is used by refiners in the United States to extend fuel supplies. According to the EIA, from 2001 to 2014, ethanol as a component of the United States gasoline su pply has grown from 1.4% to 9.9 %. In 2014 alo ne, ethanol replaced the need for approxima tely 712 million barre ls of oil in the United States.

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·

E15 Blending Waiver.     Through a series of decisions beginning in October 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA ,   has granted a waiver for the use of up to 15% ethanol blended with gasoline, or E15 , in model year 2001 and newer passenger vehicles, including cars, sport utility vehicles, or SUVs , and light pickup trucks. In June 2012, the EPA gave final approval for the sale and use of E15 ethanol blends. The nation’s first retail E15 ethanol blends were sold in July 2012. As of January 20, 2015, there were 110 retail fuel stations in 16 states offering E15 to consumers.

·

Mandated Use of Renewable Fuels.  The growth in ethanol usage in the United States has also been supported by legislative requirements dictating the use of renewable fuels, including ethanol. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 , or EISA, established the Renewable Fuel Standard II, or RFS II, which modified a renewable fuel standard established in previous legislation. RFS II mandated a minimum usage of corn-derived renewable fuels of 12.0 billion gallons in 2010, increasing annually by 600 million gallons to 15.0 billion gallons in 2015. Under the provisions of EISA , authority   has been delegated to the EPA to assign mandated volumes of renewable fuels to be blended into transportation fuel to individual fuel blenders. The EPA has not set mandated volumes for 2014 or 2015. RFS II, has been, and we expect will continue to be, a driving factor in the growth of ethanol usage.

·

Net Ethanol Exports.  Prior to 2010, the United States had a long history as a net importer of ethanol. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, in 2010, the United States became the global low-cost ethanol producer, surpassing Brazil as the largest exporter of ethanol to world markets. According to the EIA, U.S. ethanol exports, ne t of imports, in 2014 were approximately 750 million gallons and in 2013 were approximately 200 million gallons.

 

Our Operating Segments

 

Ethanol Production Segment

 

We ha ve the capacity to produce over one billion gallons of ethanol per year within our ethanol production segment . Our plants use a dry mill process to produce ethanol and co-products   such as wet, modified wet or dried distillers grains. Processing at full capacity, our plants consume approximately 360 million bushels of corn and produce approximately 2.9 million tons of distillers grains annually .   Each of our plants is located adjacent to and has access to major rail lines. We operate all of our ethanol plants through wholly-owned operating subsidiaries. A summary of these plants is outlined below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant

Plant Production Capacity (mmgy)

Initial Operation or Acquisition Date

Technology

Land Owned (acres)

On-Site Ethanol Storage Capacity (gallons)

Atkinson, Nebraska

50

June 2013

Delta-T

80

2,074,000

Bluffton, Indiana (1)

120

Sept. 2008

ICM

419

3,000,000

Central City, Nebraska

100

July 2009

ICM

40

2,250,000

Fairmont, Minnesota

115

Nov. 2013

Delta-T

209

3,124,000

Lakota, Iowa

100

Oct. 2010

ICM/Lurgi

91

2,500,000

Obion, Tennessee (1)

120

Nov. 2008

ICM

230

3,000,000

Ord, Nebraska

55

July 2009

ICM

171

1,550,000

Otter Tail, Minnesota

60

Mar. 2011

Delta-T

117

2,000,000

Riga, Michigan

60

Oct. 2010

Delta-T

137

1,239,000

Shenandoah, Iowa (1)

65

Aug. 2007

ICM

110

1,524,000

Superior, Iowa (1)

60

July 2008

Delta-T

263

1,238,000

Wood River, Nebraska

115

Nov. 2013

Delta-T

126

3,124,000

 

(1)

We constructed t hese four plants ; all other ethanol plants were acquired.

 

Six of the twelve plants we own are what we believe to be industry-leading ethanol processing technology developed by ICM, Inc. The remaining six plants are Delta-T technology, which is also a quality processing technology in the ethanol industry. Our years of combined experience with building, acquiring and operating these technologies provides us with a deep understanding of how to effectively and efficiently manage both systems for maximum performance.

 

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Corn Feedstock and Ethanol Production

 

Ethanol is a chemical produced by the fermentation of carbohydrates found in grains and other biomass. Ethanol can be produced from a number of different types of grains, such as corn, wheat and sorghum, as well as from agricultural waste products such as rice hulls, cheese whey, potato waste, brewery and beverage wastes and forestry and paper wastes. At present, the majority of ethanol in the United States is produced from corn because corn contains large quantities of carbohydrates, can be handled efficiently and is in greater supply than other grains. Such carbohydrates convert into glucose more easily than most other kinds of biomass. Outside the United States, sugarcane is the primary feedstock used in ethanol production.

 

Our plants use corn as feedstock in the dry mill ethanol production process. Each of our plants requires, depending on their production capacity ,   approximately 20 million to 40 million bushels of corn annually. The price and availability of corn are subject to significant fluctuations depending upon a number of factors that affect commodity prices in general, including crop conditions, weather, governmental programs and foreign purchases. Because the market price of ethanol is not directly related to corn prices, ethanol producers are generally not able to compensate for increases in the cost of corn feedstock through adjustments to prices charged for their ethanol.

 

Our corn supply is obtained primarily from local markets. To utilize synergies between our agribusiness and ethanol production segments, corn is procured by our agribusiness segment and subsequently provided to our ethanol production segment. We utilize cash and forward purchase contracts with grain producers and elevators for the physical delivery of corn to our plants. At seven of our ethanol plants , we maintain direct relationships with local farmers, grain elevators and cooperatives , which serve as our primary sources of grain feedstock. Most farmers in the areas where these plants are located store their corn in their own storage facilities, which allows us to purchase much of the corn needed to supply our plants directly from farmers throughout the year. At five of our ethanol plants , we have contracted with third-party grain originators to supply all corn require d for ethanol production. These contracts terminate between September 2015 and November 2023. Each of our plants is also situated on ra il lines or has other logistical solutions to access corn supplies from other regions of the country if local corn supplies are insufficient.

 

Corn is received at the plant by truck or rail, is then weighed and unloaded in a receiving building. Storage bins are utilized to inventory grain, which is passed through a scalper to remove rocks and debris prior to processing. Thereafter, the corn is transported to a hammer mill where it is ground into coarse flour and conveyed into a slurry tank for enzymatic processing. Water, heat and enzymes are added to convert the complex starch molecules into simpler carbohydrates . The slurry is heated to reduce the potential of microbial contamination and pumped to a liquefaction tank where additional enzymes are added. Next, the grain slurry is pumped into fermenters, where yeast, enzymes, and nutrients are added, to begin a batch fermentation process. A beer column, within the distillation system, separates the alcohol from the spent grain mash. Alcohol is then transported through a rectifier column, a side stripper and a molecular sieve syste m where it is dehydrated to 200- proof alcohol. The 200- proof alcohol is either pumped to a holding tank and blended with approximately two percent denaturant (usually natural gasoline) as it is pumped into finished product storage tanks or is marketed as undenatured ethanol .

 

Distillers Grains

 

The spent grain mash from the beer column is pumped into one of several decanter type centrifuges for dewatering. The water, or thin stillage, is pumped from the centrifuges and then to an evaporator where it is dried into a thick syrup. The solids, or wet cake, that exit the centrifuge are conveyed to the dryer system. The wet cake is dried at varying temperatures , resulting in the production of distillers grains. Syrup might be reapplied to the wet cake prior to drying, providing additional nutrients to the distillers grains. Distillers grains, the principal co-product of the ethanol production process, are principally used as high-protein, high-energy animal fodder and feed supplements marketed to the dairy, beef, swine and poultry industries.

 

Dry mill ethanol processing potentially creates three forms of distillers grains, depending on the number of times the solids are passed through the dryer system : wet, modified wet and dried distillers grains. Wet distillers grains are processed wet cake that contains approximately 65% to 70% moisture. Wet distillers grains have a shelf life of approximately three days and can be sold only to dairies or feedlots within the immediate vicinity of an ethanol plant. Modified wet distillers grains, which have been dried further to approximately 50% to 55% moisture, have a slightly longer shelf life of approximately three weeks and are marketed to regional dairies and feedlots. Dried distillers grains, which have been dried more e xtensively to approximately 10% to 12% moisture, have an almost indefinite shelf life and may be stored, sold and shipped to any market regardless of its proximity to an ethanol plant.

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Utilities

 

The production of ethanol requires significant amounts of natural gas, electricity and water.

 

Natural Gas .  Ethanol plants produce process steam from their own boiler systems and dry the dis tillers grains co-product via direct gas-fired dryer s . Depending on certain production parameters, our ethanol plants are expected to use approximat ely 22,000 to 32,000 British Thermal Units of natura l gas per gallon of production. We have entered into certain service agreements for the natural gas required by our ethanol plants and pay tariff fees to these providers for transporting the gas through their pipelines to our plants .

 

Electricity .  Our plants re quire between 0.5 and 1.0 kilowatt hours of electricity per ga llon of production. Local utilities supply necessary electricity to all of our ethanol plants.

 

Water Although some of our plants satisfy the majority of their water requirements from wells located on their respective properties, each plant also obtains potable water from local municipal water sources. Each facility operates a filtration system to purify the well water that is utilized for its operations. Local municipalities supply all of the necessary water for our plants that do not have onsite wells. Much of the water used in an ethanol plant is recycled back into the production process.

 

Corn Oil Production Segment

 

We operate corn oil extraction systems at our ethanol plants. The corn oil systems are designed to extract non-edible corn oil from the thin stillage evaporation process immediately prior to production of distillers grains. Corn oil is produced by processing syrup and evaporated thin stillage through a decanter style centrifuge or a disk stack style centrifuge. Corn oil has a lower density than water or solids which make up the syrup. The centrifuges separate the relatively light oil from the heavier components of the syrup, eliminating the need for significant ret ention time. We extract approximately 0.7 pounds o f corn oil per bushel of corn used to produce ethanol. De-oiled syrup is returned to the process for blending into wet, modified, or dry distillers grains. Industrial uses for corn oil include feedstock for biodiesel, livestock feed additives, rubber substitutes, rust preventatives, inks, textiles, soaps and insecticides.

 

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Agribusiness Segment  

 

We own and operate four grain elevators in three states with combin ed grain storage capacity of approximately 9.0 million bushels. Our cattle-feeding operation has approximately 2,600 acres of land, with 3.8 mil lion bushels of grain storage capacity and the ability to support 70,000 head of cattle. O ur ethanol plants have approximately 29.4 million bushels of total grain storage capacity. A summary of our agribusiness segment facilities is outlined below:

 

 

 

 

 

Facility Location

Land Owned (acres)

On-Site Grain Storage Capacity (bushels)

Grain Elevators

 

 

Archer, Nebraska

12

1,200,000

Essex, Iowa

17

3,700,000

Hopkins, Missouri

10

2,000,000

St. Edward, Nebraska

9

2,100,000

Feedlot Operation

 

 

Kismet, Kansas

2,600

3,800,000

Ethanol Plants

 

 

Atkinson, Nebraska

*

2,280,000

Bluffton, Indiana

*

4,789,000

Central City, Nebraska

*

1,400,000

Fairmont, Minnesota

*

1,611,000

Lakota, Iowa

*

3,532,000

Obion, Tennessee

*

2,422,000

Ord, Nebraska

*

2,266,000

Otter Tail, Minnesota

*

2,504,000

Riga, Michigan

*

2,321,000

Shenandoah, Iowa

*

636,000

Superior, Iowa

*

2,477,000

Wood River, Nebraska

*

3,199,000

 

* Land owned at the ethanol plant   locations is disclosed in the ethanol segment discussion above.

 

We buy bu lk grain, primarily corn and soybeans, and cattle from area producers and provide grain drying and storage services to those producers. Our bulk grain business supplies a portion of the feedstock for our ethanol plants. The grain is also sold to grain processing companies and area livestock producers while cattle are sold to meat processors .   Bulk grain and cattle commodities are readily traded on commodity exchanges and inventory values are affected by market changes and spreads. In an attempt to reduce risk s due to market fluctuations from purchase and sale commitments for grain and cattle, as well as grain and cattle held in inventory , we enter into exchange-traded futures and options contracts that function as economic hedges. We believe our agribusiness operations increase our operational efficiency, reduce commodity price and supply risks, and diversify our revenue streams.

 

Seasonality is present within our agribusiness operations. The fall harvest period generally results in higher handling margins and stronger financial results for this segment during the fourth quarter.

 

Marketing and Distribution Segment

 

We have an in-house marketing business responsible for the sale, marketing and distribution of all ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil produced at our ethanol plants. We also market and provide logistical services for ethanol and other commodities for a third-party ethanol producer. We purchase and sell ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil, grain, natural gas and other commodities in various markets. Additionally, we operate eight fuel terminals , with approximately 822 mmgy of total throughput capacity, all owing us to source, store and distribute biodiesel and ethanol, including our production and that of other producers, across multiple states.

 

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Marketing

 

We market our ethanol and that of a third-party producer to many different customers on a local, regional , national and international basis. In addition, we purchase ethanol from other independent producers to realize price arbitrages that may exist. To achieve the best prices for the ethanol that we market, we sell into various markets under sales agreements with integrated energy companies, jobbers, retailers, traders and resellers. Under these agreements, ethanol is priced under fixed and indexed pricing arrangements. We produce ethanol that conforms to domestic and certain international specifications;   accordingly, our ethanol is also sold to buyers for export to Brazil, Canada, Europe and other international markets.

 

The market for distillers grains generally consists of local markets for wet, modified wet and dried distillers grains, and national and international markets for dried distillers grains. In addition, the market can be segmented by geographic region and livestock industry. The bulk of the current demand is for deliveries to geographic regions without significant local corn or distillers grains production. Our market strategy includes shipping a substantial amount of distillers grains as dried distillers grains to regional and national markets by barge and rail.

 

Most of our modified wet distillers grains are sold to midwestern feedlot markets. Our dried distillers grains are generally shipped to feedlot and poultry markets, as well as to Texas and west coast rail markets. Some of our distillers grains are shipped by truck to dairy, beef, and poultry operations in the eastern United States. Also, at certain times of the year, we transport product to the Mississippi River to be loaded on barges. We also ship by railcars into Eastern and Southeastern feed mill, poultry and dairy operations, as well as to domestic trade companies. We also sell dried distillers grains to exporters for shipment t o international markets. The largest distillers grains export markets in 2014 included China, Mexico, Vietnam, and South Korea. Access to diversified markets allows us to sell product to customers that are offering the highest net price.

 

Our corn oil is primarily sold to biodiesel manufactures and, to a lesser extent, feed lot and poultry markets. We generally transport our corn oil by truck to locations in a close proximity to our ethanol plants, primarily in the southeastern and midwestern regions of the United States.

 

Transportation and Delivery

 

Most ethanol plants are situated near major highways or rail lines to ensure efficient movement. The distribution of ethanol primarily consists of movements from ethanol plants to bulk terminals via railcar, transport truck or barge. It is difficult to transport ethanol in pipelines because it is water-soluble and, as a result, will mix readily with any water present in a pipeline.   We manage the logistics and transportation requirements of our customers to improve efficiencies of our fleet and reduce operating costs.

 

To meet the challenge of marketing ethanol and distillers grains to diverse market segments, our plants generally have access to rail lines, with several having extensive rail siding capable of handling more than 150 railcars on-site. At certain of our locations, we have large loop tracks which enable loading of unit trains of both ethanol and dried distillers grains, as well as spurs connecting the site’s rail loop to the railroad mainline or spurs that allow movement and storage of railcars on-site. These rail lines allow us to sell our products to various regional and national markets. The rail providers for our ethanol plants can switch cars to most of the other major railroads, allowing the plants to ship ethanol and distillers grains throughout the United States. Our railcar fleet is comprised of approxi mately 2,200 leased tank cars for the t ransportation of ethanol and approx imately 900 leased hopper cars for th e transportation of distillers grains. The lease contract initial terms are for periods up to ten years. Deliveries to the majority of the local markets, within 150 miles of the plants, are generally transported by truck, and deliveries to more distant markets are shipped by rail using major U.S. rail carriers. We seek to opti mize the utilization of our rail assets, including potential use for transportation of products other than ethanol and distillers grains, depending on market opportunities. To optimize the value of our assets, we have utilized a portion of our railcar fleet to transport crude oil for third parties and to lease railcars to other users.

 

Terminal and Distrib ution Services

 

Once stored in our terminal facilities near our plants , ethanol is transported to third - party blending terminal s where it is then blended with gasoline to the appropriate level. Ethanol blending typically occurs at the rack level where the two products are combined in the proper proportion and transferred on to the loading rack for delivery into the transport truck, which then transports the blended gasoline to retail gas stations.

 

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We own and operate fuel holding tanks and terminals, and pro v ide terminal services and logistics solutions to markets that currently do not have efficient access to renewable fuels. We operate fuel terminals at one owned and seven leased locations on approximately 28 acres in seven states with a combined total storage capacity of approximately 7. 4 million gallons and throughput capacity of approximately 822 mmgy. The fuel terminal facilities are summarized below:

 

 

 

 

 

Facility Location

Storage Capacity (gallons)

Throughput Capacity (mmgy)

Birmingham, Alabama - Unit Train Terminal

6,542,000

300

Birmingham, Alabama - Other

120,000

72

Bossier City, Louisiana

180,000

60

Collins, Mississippi

180,000

180

Little Rock, Arkansas

30,000

36

Louisville, Kentucky

60,000

30

Nashville, Tennessee

160,000

60

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

150,000

84

 

Risk Management and Hedging Activities

 

The profitability of our operations and our industry are highly dependent on commodity prices, especially prices for ethanol, distillers grai ns, corn oil, corn and natural gas. Because market price fluctuations among these commodities are not always correlated , at times ethanol production may be unprofitable.

 

W e enter into forward contracts to sell a portion of our respective ethanol and distillers grains production or to purchase a portion of our respective corn or natural gas requirements   i n an attempt to partially offset the effects of volatility of ethanol, distillers grains, corn and natural gas prices. We also engage in other hedging transactions involving exchange-traded futures contracts for corn, natural gas and ethanol from time to time. The financial statement impact of these activities is dependent upon, among other things, the prices involved and our ability to physically receive or deliver the commodities involved. Hedging arrangements also expose us to the risk of financial loss in situations where the counter party to the hedging contract defaults on its contract or, in the case of exchange-traded contracts, where there is a change in the expected differential between the price of the commodity underlying the hedging agreement and the actual prices paid or received by us for the physical commodity bought or sold. Hedging activities can themselves result in losses when a position is purchased in a declining market or a position is sold in a rising market. A hedge position is often settled in the same time frame as the physical commodity is either purchased (corn and natural gas) or sold (ethanol ,   distillers grains and corn oil ). Hedging losses may be offset by a decreased cash price for corn and natural gas and an increased cash price for ethanol , distillers grains and corn oil . We also vary the amount of hedging or other risk mitigation strategies we undertake, and we may choose not to engage in hedging transactions at all. By using a variety of risk management tools and hedging strategies, including our internally-developed real-time operating margin management system, we believe our approach to risk management allows us to monitor real-time operating price risk exposure at each of our plants and to respond quickly to lock in acceptable margins when they are available or temporarily reduce production levels at our ethanol plants during periods in which we have identified compressed margins . In addition, our multiple business lines and revenue streams help diversify our operations and profitability.

 

Recent Acquisition and Disposition Activity

 

In January 2012 , we acquired a grain elevator located in St. Edward, Nebraska. The grain elevator is located approximately 40 miles from our Central City, Nebraska ethanol plant and is included in our agribusiness segment.

 

In December 2012, we sold 12 grain elevators located in northwestern Iowa and western Tennessee. The sale of assets, previously included in our agribusiness segment, consisted of approximately 32.6 million bushels of grain storage capacity and all of our agronomy and retail petroleum operations.

 

In June 2013, we acquired an ethanol plant located in Atkinson, Nebraska. The plant, which is part of our ethanol production segment, has production capacity of approximately 50 mmgy, adding to our ethanol and distillers grains production. Corn oil extraction technology was installed at the plant late in the fourth quarter of 2013. Also, in June 2013, we acquired a grain elevator in Archer, Nebraska, which is included in our agribusiness segment.

 

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In November 2013, we acquired two ethanol plants, located in Wood River, Nebraska and Fairmont, Minnesota. The plants, which are part of our ethanol production segment, have combined production capacity of 230 mmgy, adding to our ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil production. The Fairmont, Minnesota plant, which was not operational at the time of its acquisition, began operations in January 2014 upon completion of certain maintenance and enhancement projects .

 

In June 2014, we acquired the assets of a cattle-feeding business near Kismet, Kansas, which includes a feedlot and grain storage facility. The operation, which is part of our agribusiness segment, consists of approximately 2,600 acres of land, which has the capacity to support 70,000 head of cattle, and corn storage capacity of approximately 3.8 million bushels.

 

BioProcess Algae Joint Ventur e

 

Our BioProcess Algae joint venture is focused on developing technology to grow and harvest algae, which consume carbon dioxide, in commercially viable quantities. Through multiple stages of expansion, BioProcess Algae has constructed a five-acre algae farm next to our Shenandoah, Iowa ethanol plant and has been operating its Grower Harvesters™ bioreactors since January 2011. The joint venture is currently focused on verification of growth rates, energy balances, capital requirements and operating expenses of the technology , which are considered to be some of the key steps to commercialization.

 

BioPro cess Algae announced on April 22, 2013 ,   that it had been selected to receive a grant of up to $6.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, as part of a pilot-scale biorefinery project related to production of hydrocarbon fuels meeting military spec ification. The project uses renewable carbon dioxide, lignocellulosic sugars and waste heat through BioProcess Algae’s Grower Harvester™ technology platform. The objective of the project is to demonstrate technologies to cost-effectively convert biomass into advanced drop-in biofuels. BioProcess Algae is required to contribute a minimum of 50% matching funds for the project. The project with the DOE has been divided into three phases ,   with the first phase successfully completed in August 2014 . We have agreed with the DOE to move into the second phase in which the detailed design, engineering, scheduling and budgeting for construction of a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery will be developed. The third phase would involve construction of the biorefinery.

 

If we and the other BioProcess Algae members determine that the joint venture can achieve the desired economic performance, a larger build-out will be considered, possibly as large as 200 to 400 acres of Grower Harvester™ reactors. Such a build-out may be completed in stages and could take up to two years to complete. Funding for such a project would come from a variety of sources, including current partners, new equity investors, debt financing or a combination thereof. We increased our ownership of BioProcess Algae to approximately 63% during the second quarter of 2014. However, we still do not possess the requisite control of this investment to consolidate it.

 

Our Competition

 

Domestic Ethanol Competitors

 

We compete with numerous other ethanol producers located throughout the United States. In 201 4 , the three largest ethanol producers in North America w ere Archer-Daniels-Midland Company, POET, LLC and Valero Energy Corporation. We believe that o ur principal competitors’ expected managed annual production capacity and ethanol marketed ranges between approximately 300 mmgy and approximately 1,800 mmgy. Based on production capacity as reported by Ethanol Producer Magazine, we believe we are the fourth largest ethanol producer in North America. According to Ethanol Producer Magazine, as of December 31, 2014, there were 213 ethanol-producing plants within the United States, capable of producing 15.9 billion gallons of ethanol annually. The industry typically does not operate at 100% of capacity with historical rates of annual production to available plant capacity averaging in the high 80 percent to the low 90 percent range.

 

Our competitors also include plants owned by farmers who earn their primary livelihood through the production and sale of grain and competitors whose primary business is oil refining and retail fuel sales. These competitors may continue to operate their plants when market conditions are uneconomic due to benefits realized in other operations.

 

Competition for corn supply from other ethanol plants and other corn consumers exists in all areas and regions in which our plants operate. According to Ethanol Producer Magazine, as of December 31, 2014, the states of Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Tennessee had a total of 113 operational etha nol plants , with Iowa and Nebraska having the majority of the plants . Th e state of Iowa h ad 44 operational ethanol plants concentrated, for the most part, in the northern and central regions of the state where a majority of the corn is produc ed. The state of Nebraska h ad 26 ope rational ethanol plants.  

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Foreign Ethanol Competitors

 

We also face foreign competition in the production of ethanol. Brazil is currently the second largest ethanol producer in the world. Brazil’s ethanol production is sugarcane based, as opposed to corn based, and, depending on feedstock prices, may be less expensive to produce. Under RFS II, certain parties were obligated to meet an advanced biofuel standard calling for 3.75 billion gallons of biofuels in 2014. In recent years, sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil has been one of the most economical means for obligated parties to meet this standard. Other foreign producers may be able to produce ethanol at lower input costs, including costs of feedstock, facilities and personnel, than we can. If significant additional foreign ethanol production capacity is created, such facilities could create excess supplies of ethanol on world markets, which may result in lower prices of ethanol throughout the world, including the United States.

 

Other Competition

 

Alternative fuels, gasoline oxygenates and ethanol production methods are continually under development by ethanol and oil companies. Ethanol production technologies continue to evolve, and changes are expected to occur primarily in the area of ethanol made from cellulose obtained from other sources of biomass such as switchgrass or fast - growing poplar trees. Because our plants are designed as single-feedstock facilities, we have limited ability to adapt the plants to a different feedstock or process system without additional capital investment and retooling.  

 

Regulatory Matters

 

Government Ethanol Programs and Policies

 

Demand for cleaner, more sustainable transportation fuels is growing around the world. Growth of ethanol demand is being driven by progressive policies adopted by more than 30 foreign countries, calling for increasing amounts of ethanol in those countries’ motor fuel supplies. Ethanol has become crucial to the global fuel mix, providing an economical source of oxygenate and octane for global fuel supplies.

 

In an effort to reduce this country’s dependence on foreign oil, federal and state governments have enacted numerous policies, incentives and subsidies to encourage the usage of domestically - produced alternative fuel s . The U.S. ethanol industry has benefited significantly as a direct result of these policies. While historically the ethanol industry has been dependent on economic incentives, the need for such incentives has and may continue to diminish as the acceptance of ethanol as a primary fuel and as a fuel extender continues to increase.

 

Pursuant to the provisions of EISA, RFS II was established, which modified a renewable fuel standard established in previous legislation. RFS II increased the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel and mandated a minimum usage of corn-derived renewable fuels of 12.0 billion gallons in 2010, increasing annually by 600 million gallons to 15.0 billion gallons   in 2015. Under the provisions of EISA, authority has been delegated to the EPA to assign mandated volumes of renewable fuels to be blended into transportation fuel to individual fuel blenders. RFS II, has been, and we expect will continue to be, a driving factor in the growth of ethanol usage in the United States .   On April 10, 2013 the Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act was introduced as H.R . 1461 to target the repeal of RFS II . Also introduced on April 10, 2013 was the RFS Reform Bill, H.R. 1462, which would prohibit more than ten percent ethanol in gasoline and reduce the RFS II mandated volume of renewable fuel. On May 14, 2013, the Domestic Alternatives Fuels Act of 2013 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1959 to allow ethanol produced from natural gas to be used to meet the RFS II mandate. These bills failed to make it out of congressional committee and were not enacted into law. H.R. 21 was introduced on January 6, 2015 to provide for a comprehensive assessment of the scientific and technical research on the implications of the use of mid-le vel ethanol blends, and for other purposes. This bill would seek to eliminate the waiver granted by the EPA to allow E15 in 2001 and newer model cars and light trucks. H.R. 434 was introduced on January 21, 2015 which seeks to modify the Cle an Air Act by limiting or removing the authority of the EPA to grant waivers for higher blends of ethanol in the U.S. gasoline supply. The bill also seeks to repeal existing waivers already granted by the EPA concerning E15. H.R.704, introduced February 4, 2015, is similar to H.R. 21 as it proposes limiting ethanol blends higher than 10% in the U.S. fuel supply and seeks to repeal the renewable fuel standard.

 

Under the provisions of EISA , the EPA has the authority to waive the mandated RFS II requirements in whole or in part. To grant the waiver, the EPA administrator must determine, in consultation with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy, that one of two conditions has been met: (1) there is inadequate domestic renewable fuel supply or (2) implementation of the requirement would severely harm the economy or environment of a state, region or the United States. In the third quarter of

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2012, several waiver requests were filed with the EPA based on drought conditions , which wer e subsequently denied .  

 

The RFS I I mandate increased to 14.4 billion gallons of corn-derived renewable fuel for 2014, 600 million gallons over the mandated volume in 2013, and increases to 15.0 billion gallons for 2015. On November 15, 2013, the EPA released its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the 2014 Renewable Fuel Standard. The proposal discusses a variety of approaches for setting the 2014 standards, and includes a number of production and consumption ranges for key categories of biofuel covered by RFS II. The proposal seeks comment on a range of total renewable fuel volumes for 2014 and proposes a level within that range of 15.2 billion gallons, including approximately 13.0 billion gallons of corn-derived renewable fuel. The proposal addresses two constraints of RFS II: (1) limitations in the volume of ethanol that can be consumed in gasoline given practical constraints on the supply of higher ethanol blends to the vehicles that can use them and (2) limitations in the ability of the industry to produce sufficient volumes of qualifying renewable fuel. On November 21, 2014, the EPA announced that it rescinded its proposal from 2013 and will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the RFS program before the end of 2014. In light of this delay in issuing the 2014 RFS standards, the compliance demonstration deadline for the 2013 RFS standards will take place in 2015. The EPA will be making modifications to ensure that RINs generated in 2012 are valid for demonstrating compliance with the 2013 applicable standards.

 

To measure compliance with RFS II, RINs are generated and are attached to renewable fuels, s uch as the ethanol we produce, and detached when the renewable fuel is blended into the transportation fuel supply. Detached RINs may be retired by obligated parties to demonstrate compliance with RFS II or may be separately traded in the market. The market price of detached RINs may affect the price of ethanol in certain U.S. markets as obligated parties may factor these costs into their purchasing decisions. Moreover, at certain price levels for various types of RINs, it becomes more economical to import foreign sugar cane ethanol. If changes to RFS II result in significant changes in the price of various types of RINs, it could negatively affect the price of ethanol, and our operations could be adversely impacted.

 

To further drive growth in the increased adoption of ethanol, Growth Energy, an ethanol industry trade association, and a number of ethanol producers requested a waiver from the EPA to increase the amount of ethanol blended into gasoline from the current 10% level, or E10, to a 15% level, or E15. Through a series of decisions beginning in October 2010, the EPA granted a waiver for the use of E15 in model year 200 1 and newer passenger vehicles, including cars, SUVs and light pickup truck s. In June 2012, the EPA gave final approval for the sale and use of E15 ethanol blends. The nation’s first retail E15 ethanol blends were sold in July 2012. As of January 20, 2015, there were 110 retail fuel stations in 16 states offering E15 to consumers.

 

The Clean Air Act requires use of oxygenated gasoline in areas where winter time carbon monoxide levels exceed federal air quality standards. Without oxygenated gasoline, carbon monoxide emissions from gasoline-fueled vehicles tend to increase in cold weather. Winter - oxygenated gasoline programs are implemented by the individual states.  

 

Changes in corporate average fuel economy standards, or CAFE, have also benefited the ethanol industry by encouraging use of E85 fuel products. CAFE provides an effective 54% efficiency bonus to flexible-fuel vehicles running on E85. Today , E85 is available at 2,804 fuel stations concentrated in 10 U.S. states. The EIA estimates that there are 14.2 million flexible-fuel vehicles in the United States, representing 6.3% of cars and light trucks on the road. It also estimates that approximately 200 million gallons of E85 were sold in 2013. Auto manufacturers may find it attractive to build more flexible-fuel trucks and sport utility vehicles that are otherwise unlikely to meet CAFE standards.

 

The Master Limited Partnership Parity Act was introduced on April 24, 2013 in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1696 to extend the publicly traded partnership ownership structure to renewable energy projects, including ethanol production. The legislation would provide a more level financing system and tax burden for renewable energy and fossil energy projects. H.R. 1696 did not advance out of committee during the 113th Congress ; currently , the co-sponsors have not re-introduced the bill.

 

In addition to these federal standards, many states have taken other steps to encourag e ethanol consumption including tax credits, mandated blend rates and subsidies .

 

On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or the Reform Act, which , among other things, aims to improve transparency and accountability in derivative markets. While the Reform Act increases the regulatory authority of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, or CFTC, regarding over-the-counter derivatives, there is uncertainty on several issues related to market clearing, definitions of market participants, reporting, and capital requirements. While some of the details have been addressed in CFTC regulations, others remain and at this time we do not anticipate any material impact t o our risk management strategy.

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The Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2012 was introduced on January 18, 2012 in the U.S. House of Representatives and was re-introduced on March 15, 2013 as H.R. 1214 to provide liability protection for claims based on the sale or use of certain fuels and fuel additives. Passage of this bill would provide liability protection to consumers in the event they unintentionally put any transportation fuel into their motor vehicle for which such fuel has not been approved. Some automobile manufacturers have publicly stated that the use of fuels not approved in their owners’ manuals, such as E15, is considered misfueling and any resulting damage would not be covered by their warranties. The American Fuel Protection Act of 2013 , or H.R. 2267, was introduced on June 5, 2013 in the U.S. House of Representatives to make the United States exclusively liable for certain claims of liability for damages resulting from, or aggravated by, the inclusion of ethanol in transportation fuel. These bills failed to advance out of congressional committee and were not enacted into law .

 

Environmental and Other Regulation

 

Our ethanol production and agribusiness activities are subject to environmental and other regulations. We obtain environmental permits to construct and operate our ethanol plants.

 

Ethanol production involves the emission of various airborne pollutants, including particulate, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court classified carbon dioxide as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act in a case seeking to require the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide in vehicle emissions. In February 2010, the EPA released its final regulations on the RFS II .   We believe t hese final regulations grandfather our plants at their current authorized capacity, though expansion of our plants above these levels will need to meet a   threshold of a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas, or GHG, emissions from a 2005 baseline measurement   to produce ethanol eligible for the RFS II mandate . In order to expand capacity at our plants, we may be required to obtain additional permits, achieve EPA “efficient producer” status under the pathway petition program, install advanced technology , or reduce drying of certain amounts of distillers grains.  

 

Separately, the California Air Resources Board , or CARB, has adopted a Low Carbon Fuel Standard ,   or LCFS, requiring a 10% reduction in average carbon intensity of gasoline and diesel transportation fuels from 2010 to 2020 .   After a series of rulings that temporarily prevented CARB from enforcing these regulations, the State of California Office of Administrative Law approved the LCFS on November 26, 2012, and revised LCFS regulations took effect in January 2013. An Indirect Land Use Change , or ILUC, component is included in this lifecycle GHG emissions calculation which may have an adverse impact on the market for corn-based ethanol in California .  

 

The U.S. ethanol industry has long relied on railroads to deliver its product to market. We lease appr oximately 2,200 tank cars. These tank cars may need to be retrofitted or replaced if new regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation , or DOT, to address concerns related to safety are adopted, which could in turn cause a shortage of compliant tank cars. The proposed regulations call for a phase out within four years of the use of legacy DOT-111 tank cars for transporting highly-flammable liquids, including ethanol. According to the proposed rule, the DOT expects about 66,000 tank cars to be retrofitted and about 23,000 cars to be shifted to transporting other liquids. The Canadian government has also proposed that its nation’s rail shippers use sturdier tank cars for transportation of crude oil and ethanol. Adoption of the proposed regulations, which could result in upgrades or replacements of our tank cars, would likely have an adverse effect on our operations as lease costs for tank cars would likely increase. Additionally, existing tank cars could be out of service for a period of time while such upgrades are made, tightening supply in an industry that is highly dependent on such railcars to transport its product. The DOT recently announced that the comprehensive crude-by-rail safety rule will be submitted to the White House for final review with hopes that the rule will be finalized by May 2015.

 

Part of our business is regulated by environmental laws and regulations governing the labeling, use, storage, discharge and disposal of hazardous materials. Our agribusiness operations are subject to government regulation and regulation by certain private sector associations. Production levels, markets and prices of the grains we merchandise are affected by federal government programs, which include acreage control and price support programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA. In addition, grain that we sell must conform to official grade standards imposed by the USDA. Other examples of government policies that can have an impact on our business include tariffs, duties, subsidies, import and export restrictions and outright embargos.

 

We also employ maintenance and operations personnel at each of our ethanol plants.   In addition to the attention that we place on the health and safety of our employees, the operations at our facilities are governed by the regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

 

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M ajor Customer

 

Revenues from two customers, controlled by the same entity, of our mar keting and distribution segment   totaled approximately $325.0 m illion, or 10.0% , of our co nsolidated revenues.

 

Employees

 

As of December 31, 2014, we had approximately 840 full-time, part-time and temporary or seasonal employees. At that date, we employed 145 people, including 68 employees of our subsidiary, Green Plains Trade Group LLC, at our corporate office in Omaha, 74 employees at our agribusiness operations, 19 employees at other locations in our marketing and distribution segment, and the remainder at our ethanol plants.

 

Available Information

 

Our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 , or the Exchange Act , are available free of charge on our website at www.gpreinc.com as soon as reasonably practicable after we file or furnish such information electronically with the SEC. Also available on our website in our corporate governance section are the charters of our audit, compensation, and nominating committees, and a copy of our code of conduct and ethics that applies to our directors, officers and other employees, including our Chief Executive Officer and all senior financial officers. The information found on our website is not part of this or any other report we file with or furnish to the SEC.

 

The public may read and copy any materials we file with the SEC at the SEC’s Public Reference Room at 100 F Street, NE, Washington, DC 20549. The public may obtain information on the operation of the Public Reference Room by calling the SEC at 1-800-SEC-0330. The SEC also maintains an Internet site that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information regarding issuers that file electronically with the SEC at http://www.sec.gov .

 

I tem 1A.  Risk F actors .

 

We operate in an evolving industry that presents numerous risks. Many of these risks are beyond our control and are driven by factors that often cannot be predicted. Investors should carefully consider the risk factors set forth below, as well as the other information appearing in this report, before making any investment in our securities. If any of the risks described below or in the documents incorporated by reference in this report actually occur, our financial results, financial condition or market price of our common stock could be materially adversely affected. These risk factors should be considered in conjunction with the other information included in this report .

 

Risks relating to our business and industry

 

Our results of operations and ability to operate at a profit is largely dependent on managing the spread among the prices of corn, natural gas, ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil, the prices of which are subject to significant volatility and uncertainty.

 

The results of our ethanol production business are highly impacted by commodity prices, including the spread between the cost of corn and natural gas that we must purchase, and the price of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil that we sell. Prices and supplies are subject to and determined by market forces over which we have no control, such as weather, domestic and global demand, shortages, export prices, crude oil prices, currency valuations and various governmental policies in the United States and around the world. As a result of price volatility for these commodities, our operating results may fluctuate substantially. Increases in corn or natural gas prices or decreases in ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil   prices may make it unprofitable to operate our plants. No assurance can be given that we will be able to purchase corn and natural gas at, or near, current prices and that we will be able to sell ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil   at, or near, current prices. Consequently, our results of operations and financial position may be adversely affected by increases in the price of corn or natural gas or decreases in the price of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil.

 

We continuously monitor the profitability of our ethanol plants with a variety of risk management tools, including our internally-developed real-time operating margin management system. In recent years, the spread between ethanol and corn prices has fluctuated widely and narrowed significantly. Fluctuations are likely to continue to occur. A sustained narrow spread or any further reduction in the spread between ethanol and corn prices, whether as a result of sustained high or increased corn prices or sustained low or decreased ethanol prices, would adversely affect our results of operations and

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financial position. Further, combined revenues from sales of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil   could decline below our marginal cost of production, which could cause us to reduce or suspend production at some or all of our plants.   A decrease in production volumes could adversely impact our overall profitability.

 

P rice volatility of each commodity that we buy and sell could each adversely affect our results of operations and our ability to operate at a profit.

 

Corn.  Because ethanol competes with non-corn derived fuels, we generally are unable to pass along increases in corn costs to our customers. At certain levels, corn prices may make ethanol uneconomical to produce. There is significant price pressure on local corn markets caused by nearby ethanol plants, livestock industries and other corn consuming enterprises. Additionally, local corn supplies and prices could be adversely affected by rising prices for alternative crops, increasing input costs, changes in government policies, shifts in global markets, or damaging growing conditions such as plant disease or adverse weather, including but not limited to drought.

 

Natural Gas.  The prices for and availability of natural gas are subject to volatile market conditions. These market conditions often are affected by factors beyond our control, such as weather conditions, overall economic conditions, and foreign and domestic governmental regulation and relations. Significant disruptions in the supply of natural gas could impair our ability to manufacture ethanol for our customers. Furthermore, increases in natural gas prices or changes in our natural gas costs relative to natural gas costs paid by competitors may adversely affect our results of operations and financial position.

 

Ethanol.  Our revenues are dependent on market prices for ethanol. These market prices can be volatile as a result of a number of factors, including, but not limited to, the availability and price of competing fuels, the overall supply and demand for ethanol and corn, the price of gasoline, crude oil and corn, and government policies.

 

Ethanol is marketed as a fuel additive to reduce vehicle emissions from gasoline, as an octane enhancer to improve the octane rating of the gasoline with which it is blended and, to a lesser extent, as a gasoline substitute. As a result, ethanol prices are influenced by the supply of and demand for gasoline. Our results of operations may be materially harmed if the demand for, or the price of, gasoline decreases. Market prices for ethanol produced in the United States are also influenced by the supply of and demand for imported ethanol. Imported ethanol is not subject to an import tariff and under RFS II sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil has been one of the most economical means for obligated parties to meet an advanced biofuel standard.

 

Distillers Grains.  Distillers grains compete with other protein-based animal feed products. The price of distillers grains may decrease when the prices of competing feed products decrease. The prices of competing animal feed products are based in part on the prices of the commodities from which these products are derived. Downward pressure on commodity prices, such as soybeans, will generally cause the price of competing animal feed products to decline, resulting in downward pressure on the price of distillers grains.

 

Historically, sales prices for distillers grains have been correlated with prices of corn. However, there have been occasions when the price increase for this co-product has lagged behind increases in corn prices. In addition, our distillers grains co-product competes with products made from other feedstocks, the cost of which may not have risen as corn prices have risen. Consequently, the price we may receive for distillers grains may not rise as corn prices rise, thereby lowering our cost recovery percentage relative to corn.

 

Due to industry increases in U.S. dry mill ethanol production, the production of distillers grains in the United States has increased dramatically, and this trend may continue. This may cause distillers grains prices to fall in the United States, unless demand increases or other market sources are found. Since 2010, approximately 25% of distillers grains produced in the United States have been exported; China has been the largest importer. To date, demand for distillers grains in the United States has increased roughly in proportion to supply. We believe this is because U.S. farmers use distillers grains as a feedstock, and distillers grains are slightly less expensive than corn, for which it is a substitute. However, if prices for distillers grains in the United States fall, it may have an adverse effect on our business. In 2013, China began to reject distillers grains due to the presence of unapproved genetically-modified organisms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture stated on December 17, 2014 that Chinese officials have approved imports of Syngenta GMO corn trait MIR 162 and two varieties of biotech soybeans. China’s lift of the ban now allows for imports of distillers grains back into their country beginning in early 2015. If shipments to China are again rejected or delayed, the market for distillers grains would be negatively impacted, which could have a negative impact on our profitability.

 

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Corn Oil.  Industrial uses for corn oil include feedstock for biodiesel, livestock feed additives, rubber substitutes, rust preventatives, inks, textiles, soaps and insecticides. Corn oil is generally marketed as a feedstock for biodiesel and, therefore, the price of corn oil is affected by demand for biodiesel. In general, corn oil prices follow the same price trends as heating oil and soybean oil. If the price for corn oil fluctuates, it may have an adverse effect on our business.

 

Our risk management strategies, including hedging transactions, may be ineffective and may expose us to decreased liquidity.

 

In an attempt to partially offset the effects of volatility of ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil, corn and natural gas prices, we enter into forward contracts to sell a portion of our respective ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil production or to purchase a portion of our respective corn or natural gas requirements. We also engage in other hedging transactions involving exchange-traded futures contracts for corn, natural gas, ethanol and unleaded gasoline from time to time. The financial statement impact of these activities is dependent upon, among other things, the prices involved and our ability to physically receive or deliver the commodities involved. Hedging arrangements also expose us to the risk of financial loss in situations where the counterparty to the hedging contract defaults on its contract or, in the case of exchange-traded contracts, where there is a change in the expected differential between the price of the commodity underlying the hedging agreement and the actual prices paid or received by us for the physical commodity bought or sold. Hedging activities can themselves result in losses when a position is purchased in a declining market or a position is sold in a rising market. A hedge position is often settled in the same time frame as the physical commodity is either expensed as a cost of goods sold (corn and natural gas) or recognized as revenue (ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil). Hedging losses may be offset by a decreased cash price for corn and natural gas and an increased cash price for ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil. We also vary the amount of hedging or other risk mitigation strategies we undertake, and we may choose not to engage in hedging transactions at all. We cannot assure you that our risk management and hedging activities will be effective in offsetting the effects of volatility. If we fail to offset such volatility, our results of operations and financial position may be adversely affected.

 

The use of derivative financial instruments frequently involves cash deposits with brokers, or margin calls. Sudden changes in commodity prices may require additional cash deposits immediately. Depending on our open derivative positions, we may require additional liquidity with little advance notice to meet margin calls. As part of our risk management strategy, we have routinely had to, and in the future will likely be required to, cover margin calls. While we continuously monitor our exposure to margin calls, we cannot guarantee you that we will be able to maintain adequate liquidity to cover margin calls in the future.

 

The ethanol industry is dependent on government usage mandates affecting ethanol production and any changes to such regulation could adversely affect the market for ethanol and our results of operations.

 

The domestic market for ethanol is significantly impacted by federal mandates for blending ethanol with gasoline. The RFS II mandate level for conventional biofuels for 20 14 is 14.4 billion gallons. Fut ure demand will be largely dependent upon the economic incentives to blend based upon the relative value of gasoline versus ethanol, taking into consideration the relative octane value of ethanol, environmental requirements and the RFS II mandate. Any significant increase in production capacity beyond the RFS II mandated level may have an adverse impact on ethanol prices.

 

Due primarily to drought conditions in 2012 and claims that blending of ethanol into the motor fuel supply will be constrained by unwillingness of the market to accept greater than ten percent ethanol blends, or the blend wall, legislation aimed at reducing or eliminating the renewable fuel use required by RFS II has been introduced in Congress. On April 10, 2013, the Renewable Fuel Standard Elimination Act was introduced as H.R. 1461. The bill is targeted to repeal RFS II. Also introduced on April 10, 2013 was the RFS Reform Bill, H.R. 1462, which would prohibit more than ten percent ethanol in gasoline and reduce the RFS II mandated volume of renewable fuel. On May 14, 2013, the Domestic Alternatives Fuels Act of 2013 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1959 to allow ethanol produced from natural gas to be used to meet the RFS II mandate. These bills failed to make it out of congressional committee and were not enacted into law. We believe RFS II is a significant component of national energy policy that reduces dependence on foreign oil by the United States. Our operations could be adversely impacted if legislation reducing the RFS II mandate is enacted.   

 

Additionally, under the provisions of EISA, the EPA has the authority to waive the mandated RFS II requirements in whole or in part. To grant the waiver, the EPA administrator must determine, in consultation with the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy, that one of two conditions has been met: (1) there is inadequate domestic renewable fuel supply or (2) implementation of the requirement would severely harm the economy or environment of a state, region or the United States.

 

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On November 21, 2014, the EPA announced that it will not be finalizing 2014 applicable percentage standards under the RFS II before the end of 2014. In light of this delay in issuing the 2014 RFS standards, the compliance demonstration deadline for the 2013 RFS standards will take place in 2015. The EPA will be making modifications to ensure that RINs generated in 2012 are valid for demonstrating compliance with the 2013 applicable standards.

 

To measure compliance with RFS II, RINs are generated and attached to renewable fuels, such as the ethanol we produce, and detached when the renewable fuel is blended into the transportation fuel supply. Detached RINs may be retired by obligated parties to demonstrate compliance with RFS II or may be separately traded in the market. The market price of detached RINs may affect the price of ethanol in certain U.S. markets as obligated parties may factor these costs into their purchasing decisions. Moreover, at certain price levels for various types of RINs, it becomes more economical to import foreign sugar cane ethanol. If changes to RFS II result in significant changes in the price of various types of RINs, it could negatively affect the price of ethanol, which could adversely affect our operations.

 

Federal law mandates the use of oxygenated gasoline in the winter in areas that do not meet Clean Air Act standards for carbon monoxide. If these mandates are repealed, the market for domestic ethanol could be diminished. Additionally, flexible-fuel vehicles receive preferential treatment in meeting corporate average fuel economy standards, or CAFE. However, high-blend ethanol fuels such as E85, a blend of ethanol and gasoline composed of up to 85% ethanol, result in lower fuel efficiencies. Absent the CAFE preferences, it may be unlikely that auto manufacturers would build flexible-fuel vehicles. Any change in these CAFE preferences could reduce the growth of E85 markets and result in lower ethanol prices, which could adversely impact our operating results.

 

To the extent that such federal or state laws or regulations are modified, the demand for ethanol may be reduced, which could negatively and materially affect our ability to operate profitably.

 

Future demand for ethanol is uncertain and may be affected by changes to federal mandates, public perception, consumer acceptance and overall consumer demand for transportation fuel, any of which could negatively affect demand for ethanol and our results of operations.

 

Ethanol production from corn has not been without controversy. Although many trade groups, academics and governmental agencies have supported ethanol as a fuel additive that promotes a cleaner environment, others have criticized ethanol production as consuming considerably more energy and emitting more greenhouse gases than other biofuels and potentially depleting water resources. Some studies have suggested that corn-based ethanol is less efficient than ethanol produced from switchgrass or wheat grain and that it negatively impacts consumers by causing prices for dairy, meat and other foodstuffs from livestock that consume corn to increase. Additionally, ethanol critics contend that corn supplies are redirected from international food markets to domestic fuel markets. If negative views of corn-based ethanol production gain acceptance, support for existing measures promoting use and domestic production of corn-based ethanol could decline, leading to reduction or repeal of federal mandates, which would adversely affect the demand for ethanol. These views could also negatively impact public perception of the ethanol industry and acceptance of ethanol as an alternative fuel.

 

Beyond the federal mandates, there are limited markets for ethanol. Discretionary blending and E85 blending are important secondary markets. Discretionary blending is often determined by the price of ethanol versus the price of gasoline. In periods when discretionary blending is financially unattractive, the demand for ethanol may be reduced. Also, the demand for ethanol is affected by the overall demand for transportation fuel, which peaked in 2007, was declining until early 2013 but has been increasing modestly since then. Demand for transportation fuel is affected by the number of miles traveled by consumers and the fuel economy of vehicles. Market acceptance of E15 may partially offset the effects of decreases in transportation fuel demand. A reduction in the demand for our products may depress the value of our products, erode our margins, and reduce our ability to generate revenue or to operate profitably. Consumer acceptance of E15 and E85 fuels is one factor that may be needed before ethanol can achieve any significant growth in market share.

 

Increased federal support of cellulosic ethanol may result in increased competition to corn-derived ethanol producers.

 

Recent legislation, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and EISA, provides numerous funding opportunities in support of cellulosic ethanol, which is obtained from other sources of biomass such as switchgrass and fast growing poplar trees. In addition, the RFS II mandates an increasing level of production of biofuels that are not derived from corn. Federal policies suggest a long-term political preference for cellulosic processes using alternative feedstocks such as switchgrass, silage, wood chips or other forms of biomass. Cellulosic ethanol may have a smaller carbon footprint because the feedstock does not require energy-intensive fertilizers and industrial production processes. Additionally, cellulosic ethanol is favored because it is unlikely that foodstuff is being diverted from the market. Several cellulosic ethanol plants are

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under development. As research and development programs persist, there is the risk that cellulosic ethanol could displace corn ethanol. In addition, any replacement of federal mandates from corn-based to cellulosic-based ethanol production may reduce our profitability.

 

Our plants are designed as single-feedstock facilities and would require significant additional investment to convert to the production of cellulosic ethanol. Additionally, our plants are strategically located in high-yield, low-cost corn production areas. At present, there is limited supply of alternative feedstocks near our facilities. As a result, the adoption of cellulosic ethanol and its use as the preferred form of ethanol would have a significant adverse impact on our business.

 

Any inability to maintain required regulatory permits may impede or completely prohibit our ability to successfully operate our plants. Additionally, any change in environmental and safety regulations, or violations thereof, could impede our ability to successfully operate our businesses.

 

Our ethanol production and agribusiness segments are subject to extensive air, water and other environmental regulation. We have had to obtain a number of environmental permits to construct and operate our plants. Ethanol production involves the emission of various airborne pollutants, including particulate, carbon dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, hazardous air pollutants and volatile organic compounds. In addition, the governing state agencies could impose conditions or other restrictions in the permits that are detrimental to us or which increase our costs above those required for profitable operations. Any such event could have a material adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

Environmental laws and regulations, both at the federal and state level, are subject to change and changes can be made retroactively. It is possible that more stringent federal or state environmental rules or regulations could be adopted, which could increase our operating costs and expenses. Consequently, even if we have the proper permits at the present time, we may be required to invest or spend considerable resources to comply with future environmental regulations. Furthermore, ongoing plant operations are governed by OSHA. OSHA regulations may change in a way that increases the costs of operations at our plants. If any of these events were to occur, they could have an adverse impact on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

Part of our business is regulated by environmental laws and regulations governing the labeling, use, storage, discharge and disposal of hazardous materials. Because we use and handle hazardous substances in our businesses, changes in environmental requirements or an unanticipated significant adverse environmental event could have an adverse effect on our business. While we strive to ensure compliance, we cannot assure you that we have been, or will at all times be, in compliance with all environmental requirements, or that we will not incur material costs or liabilities in connection with these requirements. Private parties, including current and former employees, could bring personal injury or other claims against us due to the presence of, or exposure to, hazardous substances used, stored or disposed of by us, or contained in its products. We are also exposed to residual risk because some of our facilities and land may have environmental liabilities arising from their prior use. In addition, changes to environmental regulations may require us to modify existing plant and processing facilities and could significantly increase the cost of those operations.

 

Our inability to generate or obtain RINs could adversely affect our operating margins

 

Nearly all of our ethanol production is sold with RINs used by our customers to comply with the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. If our ethanol production does not meet the requirements for RIN generation as administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, in the future, we may be required to purchase additional RINs in the open market or sell our ethanol production at lower prices to compensate for the lack of RINs. Because of uncertainty surrounding how the EPA will implement proposed regulations, RIN prices have remained volatile and increased in 2014. In 2013 and 2014, prices for RINs have been significantly higher than in prior periods. We cannot predict the future prices of RINs as the cost of RINs is dependent upon a variety of factors, which include the availability of qualifying biofuels, the availability of RINs for purchase, the price at which RINs can be purchased, transportation fuel production levels, the mix of our ethanol and its fuel blending. If we fail to obtain sufficient RINs, or rely on invalid RINs, we could be subject to fines and penalties imposed by the EPA. The costs to generate or obtain the necessary number of RINs and any fines imposed for a failure to do so, could adversely affect our operating margins, which, in turn could adversely affect our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.

 

In the past, one of our wholly-owned subsidiaries has traded ethanol and associated RINs acquired from third-parties, and may make such trades in the future. If it were to be discovered that we had purchased ethanol and associated RINs that were determined to have invalid ethanol RINs, albeit unknowingly, we could be subject to penalties. If assessed at the maximum amount allowed by law, such penalties could be substantial. However, EPA policy has been to assess very modest

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penalties for RINs violations prior to 2013. With the industry now on notice of the possibility of invalid RINs, the EPA could assess much higher penalties going forward, and if we were subject to such penalties, it could have an adverse impact on our profitability.

 

Meeting the requirements of evolving environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, and in particular those related to climate change, could adversely affect our financial performance.

 

Our plants emit carbon dioxide as a by-product of the ethanol production process. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court classified carbon dioxide as an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act in a case seeking to require the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide in vehicle emissions. On February 3, 2010, the EPA released its final regulations on RFS II. We believe these final regulations grandfather our plants at their current authorized capacity, though expansion of our plants may need to meet a threshold of a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from a 2005 baseline measurement for the ethanol over current capacity to be eligible for the RFS II mandate. The EPA issued its final rule on GHG emissions from stationary sources under the Clean Air Act in May 2010.

 

Separately, CARB has adopted a LCFS requiring a 10% reduction in average carbon intensity of gasoline and diesel transportation fuels from 2010 to 2020. After a series of rulings that temporarily prevented CARB from enforcing these regulations, the State of California Office of Administrative Law approved the LCFS on November 26, 2012, and revised LCFS regulations took effect in January 2013. An ILUC component is included in this lifecycle GHG emissions calculation which may have an adverse impact on the market for corn-based ethanol in California.

 

These federal and state regulations may require us to apply for additional permits for our ethanol plants. In order to expand capacity at our plants, we may have to apply for additional permits, achieve EPA “efficient producer” status under the pathway petition program, install advanced technology, or reduce drying of certain amounts of distillers grains. We may also be required to install carbon dioxide mitigation equipment or take other steps unknown to us at this time in order to comply with other future law or regulation. Compliance with future law or regulation of carbon dioxide, or if we choose to expand capacity at certain of our plants, compliance with then-current regulation of carbon dioxide, could be costly and may prevent us from operating our plants as profitably, which may have an adverse impact on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

We operate in a highly competitive industry. Depending on commodity prices, foreign producers may produce ethanol at a lower cost than we can, which may result in lower ethanol prices which could adversely affect our financial results.

 

In the United States, we compete with other corn processors and refiners. Although some of our competitors are larger than we are, there are also many smaller competitors. Farm cooperatives comprised of groups of individual farmers have been able to compete successfully. As of December 31, 2014, the top ten domestic producers accounted for approximately 52% of all production, with production capacities ranging from approximately 300 mmgy to 1,800 mmgy . If our competitors consolidate or otherwise grow and we are unable to similarly increase our size and scope, our business and prospects may be significantly and adversely affected.  

 

Our competitors also include plants owned by farmers who earn their livelihood through the sale of corn and competitors whose primary business is oil refining and retail gasoline sales. These competitors may continue to operate their plants when market conditions are uneconomic due to benefits realized in other operations.

 

Additionally, there is a risk of foreign competition in the ethanol industry. Foreign producers may, depending on feedstock, labor and other production costs, be able to produce ethanol cheaper than we can. Brazil is currently the second largest ethanol producer in the world. Brazil’s ethanol production is sugarcane based, as opposed to corn based, and, depending on feedstock prices, may be less expensive to produce. Under RFS II, certain parties were obligated to meet an advanced biofuel standard calling for 3.75 billion gallons of biofuels in 2014. In recent years, sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil has been one of the most economical means for obligated parties to meet this standard.

 

While foreign demand, transportation costs and infrastructure constraints may temper the market impact throughout the United States, competition from imported ethanol may affect our ability to sell our ethanol profitably, which may have an adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

If significant additional foreign ethanol production capacity is created, such facilities could create excess supplies of ethanol on world markets, which may result in lower prices of ethanol throughout the world, including the United States. Such foreign competition is a risk to our business. Any penetration of ethanol imports into the domestic market may have a

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material adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

Increased ethanol industry penetration by oil companies or other multinational companies may adversely impact our margins.

 

We operate in a very competitive environment. The ethanol industry is primarily comprised of smaller entities that engage exclusively in ethanol production and large integrated grain companies that produce ethanol along with their base grain businesses. We face competition for capital, labor, corn and other resources from these companies. Until recently, oil companies, petrochemical refiners and gasoline retailers have not been engaged in ethanol production to a large extent. These companies, however, form the primary distribution networks for marketing ethanol through blended gasoline. During the past five years, several large oil companies have entered the ethanol production market. If these companies increase their ethanol plant ownership or other oil companies seek to engage in direct ethanol production, there will be less of a need to purchase ethanol from independent ethanol producers like us. Such a structural change in the market could result in an adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

We do not own our railcar fleet and our railcar assets are subject to lease agreements with several lessors.

 

Our fleet of railcars is leased by us from several lessors pursuant to lease agreements with remaining terms ranging from eight months to approximately seven years. If at the end of the terms under the lease agreements we or the applicable lessor do not elect to renew or extend the lease agreements, and we are unable to find replacement railcars on suitable terms, our operations may be negatively impacted. Furthermore, any renewal or extension of the lease agreements or any replacement lease agreements may not be on favorable commercial terms. To the extent we are unable to renew or replace such lease agreements on terms that are favorable to us, our revenues and cash flows could be adversely affected.

 

Tank cars used to transport crude oil and ethanol may need to be retrofitted or replaced to meet proposed new rail safety regulations.

 

The U.S. ethanol industry has long relied on railroads to deliver its product to market. We have appr oximately 2,200 leased tank cars. These lease d tank cars may need to be retrofitted or replaced if new regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, or DOT, to address concerns related to safety are adopted, which could in turn cause a shortage of compliant tank cars. The proposed regulations call for a phase out within four years of the use of legacy DOT-111 tank cars for transporting highly-flammable liquids, including ethanol. According to the proposed rule, the DOT expects about 66,000 tank cars to be retrofitted and about 23,000 cars to be shifted to transporting other liquids. The Canadian government has also proposed that its nation’s rail shippers use sturdier tank cars for transportation of crude oil and ethanol. Adoption of the proposed regulations, which could result in upgrades or replacements of our tank cars, would likely have an adverse effect on our operations as lease costs for tank cars would likely increase. Additionally, existing tank cars could be out of service for a period of time while such upgrades are made, tightening supply in an industry that is highly dependent on such railcars to transport its product.

 

Our revenue from the sale of distillers grains depends upon its continued market acceptance as an animal feed.

 

Distillers grains is a co-product from the fermentation of various crops, including corn, to produce ethanol. Antibiotics may be utilized during the fermentation process to control bacterial contamination; therefore antibiotics may be present in small quantities in distillers grains marketed as animal feed. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s, or FDA’s, Center for Veterinary Medicine has expressed concern about potential animal and human health hazards from the use of distillers grains as an animal feed due to the possibility of antibiotic residues. As a result, the market value of this co-product could be diminished if the FDA were to introduce regulations that limit the sale of distillers grains in the domestic market or for export to international markets, which in turn would have a negative impact on our profitability. If public perception of distillers grains as an acceptable animal feed were to change or if the public became concerned about the impact of distillers grains in the food supply, the market for distillers grains would be negatively impacted, which would have a negative impact on our profitability. Also, China, a significant global purchaser of distillers grains, may reject shipments of distillers grains due to the presence of unapproved genetically-modified organisms. If shipments to China are rejected or delayed, the market for distillers grains could be negatively impacted, which could have a negative impact on our profitability.

 

We extract non-edible corn oil from the whole stillage process immediately prior to the production of distillers grains. Several universities are trying to determine how corn oil extraction may affect nutritional energy values of the resulting distillers grains. If it is determined that corn oil extraction adversely affects the digestible energy content of distillers grains, the value of our distillers grains may be affected, which could have a negative impact on our profitability.

 

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Our agribusiness operations are subject to significant governmental and private sector regulations.

 

Our agribusiness operations are subject to government regulation and regulation by certain private sector associations, compliance with which can impose significant costs on our business. Failure to comply with such regulations can result in additional costs, fines or criminal action. Production levels, markets and prices of the grains we merchandise are affected by federal government programs, which include acreage control and price support programs of the USDA. In addition, grain that we sell must conform to official grade standards imposed by the USDA. Other examples of government policies that can have an impact on our business include tariffs, duties, subsidies, import and export restrictions and outright embargos. Changes in government policies and producer supports may impact the amount and type of grains planted, which in turn, may impact our ability to buy grain in our market region. A portion of our grain sales may be to exporters. Therefore, the imposition of export restrictions or tariffs could limit our sales opportunities.

 

Our agribusiness segment is affected by the supply and demand of commodities, and is sensitive to factors that are often outside of our control.

 

Within our agribusiness segment, we compete with other grain merchandisers, grain processors and end-users for the purchase of grain, as well as with other grain merchandisers, private elevator operators and cooperatives for the sale of grain. Many of our grain competitors are significantly larger and compete in more diverse markets, and our failure to compete effectively would impact our profitability.

 

Fixed-price purchase obligations and carrying grain inventories subject us to the risk of market price fluctuations for periods of time between the time of purchase and final sale. Weather, economic, political, environmental and technological conditions and developments, both local and worldwide, as well as other factors beyond our control, can affect the supply and demand of these commodities and expose them to liquidity pressures due to rapidly rising or falling market prices. Changes in the supply and demand of these commodities can also affect the value of inventories held for resale. Fluctuating costs of grain inventory could decrease operating margins and adversely affect profitability of the agribusiness segment.

 

While our grain business hedges the majority of its grain inventory positions with derivative instruments to manage risk associated with commodity price changes, including purchase and sale contracts, we are unable to hedge all of the price risk of each transaction due to timing, unavailability of hedge contract counterparties and third-party credit risk. Furthermore, there is a risk that the derivatives we employ will not be effective in offsetting the changes associated with the risks we are attempting to manage. This can happen when the derivative and the hedged item are not perfectly matched. Our grain derivatives, for example, do not hedge the basis pricing component of our grain inventory and contracts. Basis is defined as the difference between the cash price of a commodity in one of our grain facilities and the nearest in time exchange-traded futures price. Differences can reflect time periods, locations or product forms. Although the basis component is smaller and generally less volatile than the futures component of grain market prices, significant unfavorable basis movement on grain positions as large as ours may significantly impact our profitability.

 

Commodities futures trading is subject to extensive regulation.

 

Certain of our operating segments use exchange-traded futures contracts as part of their hedging strategies or for other purposes. The futures industry is subject to extensive regulation. We are required to comply with a wide range of requirements imposed by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, National Futures Association and the exchanges on which we trade. These regulatory bodies are responsible for safeguarding the integrity of futures markets and protecting the interests of participants in those markets. As a market participant, we may be subject to regulation concerning trade practices, business conduct, trade reporting, position limits, record retention, the conduct of our officers and employees, and other matters.

 

Failure to comply with any of the laws, rules or regulations applicable to futures trading could have adverse consequences. It is possible that we and our officers and other employees may be subject to claims arising from acts that regulators assert were in contravention of these laws, rules or regulations. These claims may result in the payment of fines, settlements or the suspension of trading privileges for us or our officers or employees. Such sanctions could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition or operating results.

 

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Owning and operating a cattle-feeding business is affected by many external factions that could negatively impact our business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

Cattle-feeding operations involve numerous risks, including:

·

the cost and supply of livestock and feed ingredients and the selling price of our cattle, which are determined by constantly changing and potentially volatile market forces of supply and demand as well as other factors over which we have little or no control;

·

any outbreak of disease in our feedlot or elsewhere domestically, or even in other countries, or the perception by the public that an outbreak has occurred, could reduce consumer confidence in the safety and quality of beef products, generate adverse publicity, lead to inadequate supply, result in cancellation of orders by customers or result in the imposition of import or export restrictions;

·

any contamination, or allegations of contamination, of our produc ts or those of our competitors that may subject us to product liability claims or product recalls;

·

potential for liability in excess of insurance policy limits, or related to uninsurable risks, if outbreaks of disease or other conditions result in significant losses;

·

an inability to attract sufficient custom-feeding customers to maximize operational efficiencies;

·

the loss of one or more significant customers, a significant decline in the volume of orders from customers or a significant decrease in beef product prices for a sustained period of time;

·

defaults by customers on financing of cattle or feed and other inputs;

·

diminished access to international markets, including the closing of borders by foreign countries to product imports due to disease or other perceived health or food safety issues, changes in political or economic conditions, or general trade restrictions;

·

potential reductions in consumption of red meat (whether due to dietary changes or other issues) leading to depressed cattle prices;

·

water use restrictions, including those related to diminishing water table levels, that increase costs;

·

operational restrictions resulting from government regulations; and

·

risks relating to environmental hazards.

 

These items may lead to increased costs or decreased demand or prices for beef products, any of which could have an adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition. 

 

Our operating results may suffer if our marketing and sales efforts are not effective.

 

We have established our own marketing, transportation and storage infrastructure. We lease tanker railcars and have contracted with storage terminals near our customers and at strategic locations for efficient delivery of our finished ethanol product. We have also hired a marketing and sales force, as well as logistical and other operational personnel to staff our distribution activities. The marketing, sales, distribution, transportation, storage or administrative efforts we have implemented may not achieve expected results. Any failure to successfully execute these efforts would have a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial position. Our financial results also may be adversely affected by our need to establish inventory in storage locations to fulfill our marketing and distribution contracts.

 

Our debt level could negatively impact our financial condition, results of operations and business prospects.

 

As of December 31, 2014, our total debt was $672.8 million. Our lev el of debt could have significant consequences to our shareholders, including the following:  

·

requiring the dedication of a substantial portion of cash flow from operations to make payments on debt, thereby reducing the availability of cash flow for working capital, capital expenditures and other general business activities;

·

requiring a substantial portion of our corporate cash reserves to be held as a reserve for debt service, limiting our ability to invest in new growth opportunities;

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·

limiting the ability to obtain additional financing in the future for working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions and general corporate and other activities;

·

limiting the flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in the business and industry in which we operate;

·

increasing our vulnerability to both general and industry-specific adverse economic conditions;

·

being at a competitive disadvantage against less leveraged competitors;

·

being vulnerable to increases in prevailing interest rates;

·

subjecting all or substantially all of our assets to liens, which means that there may be no assets left for shareholders in the event of a liquidation; and

·

limiting our ability to make business and operational decisions regarding our business and subsidiaries, including, among other things, limiting our subsidiaries’ ability to pay dividends, make capital improvements, sell or purchase assets or engage in transactions deemed appropriate and in our best interest.

 

Most of our debt bears interest at variable rates, which creates exposure to interest rate risk. If interest rates increase, our debt service obligations with respect to the variable rate indebtedness would increase even though the amount borrowed remained the same, and our net income would decrease.

 

Our ability to make scheduled payments of principal and interest, or to refinance our indebtedness, depends on our future performance, which is subject to economic, financial, competitive and other factors beyond our control. Our business may not continue to generate cash flow in the future sufficient to service our debt because of factors beyond our control, including but not limited to the spread between corn prices and ethanol and distillers grains prices. If we are unable to generate sufficient cash flows, we may be required to adopt one or more alternatives, such as selling assets, restructuring debt or obtaining additional equity capital on terms that may be onerous or highly dilutive. Our ability to refinance our indebtedness will depend on the capital markets and our financial condition at such time. We may not be able to engage in any of these activities or engage in these activities on desirable terms, which could result in a default on our debt obligations.

 

Despite our current debt levels, we and our subsidiaries may incur substantially more debt or take other actions which would intensify the risks discussed above.

 

Despite our current debt levels, we and our subsidiaries may incur additional debt in the future, including secured debt. We and certain of our subsidiaries are not currently restricted under the terms of our debt from incurring additional debt, pledging assets, recapitalizing our debt or taking a number of other actions that are not limited by the terms of the debt but that could diminish our ability to make payments thereunder.

 

Our existing debt arrangements require us to abide by certain restrictive loan covenants that may hinder our ability to operate and reduce our profitability.

 

The loan agreements governing secured debt financing at our subsidiaries and the 3.25% Convertible Senior Notes due 2018, or the 3.25% Notes, contain a number of restrictive affirmative and negative covenants. These covenants limit the ability of our subsidiaries to, among other things, incur additional indebtedness, make capital expenditures above certain limits, pay dividends or distributions, merge or consolidate, or dispose of substantially all of their assets.

 

For certain loan agreements, we are also required to maintain specified financial ratios, including minimum cash flow coverage, minimum working capital and minimum net worth. Some of our loan agreements require us to utilize a portion of any excess cash flow generated by operations to prepay the respective term debt. A breach of any of these covenants or requirements could result in a default under our loan agreements. If any of our subsidiaries default, and if such default is not cured or waived, our lenders could, among other remedies, accelerate their debt and declare that debt immediately due and payable. If this occurs, we may not be able to repay such debt or borrow sufficient funds to refinance. Even if new financing is available, it may not be on terms that are acceptable. No assurance can be given that the future operating results of our subsidiaries will be sufficient to achieve compliance with such covenants and requirements, or in the event of a default, to remedy such default.

 

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In the past, we have received waivers from our lenders for failure to meet certain financial covenants and have amended our subsidiary loan agreements to change these covenants. No assurance can be given that, if we are unable to comply with these covenants in the future, we will be able to obtain the necessary waivers or amend our subsidiary loan agreements to prevent a default. Default by us or any of our subsidiaries with respect to any loan in excess of $10.0 million constitutes an event of default under the 3.25% Notes, which could result in the convertible senior notes being declared due and payable.

 

We operate in capital intensive businesses and rely on cash generated from operations and external financing. Limitations on access to external financing could adversely affect our operating results.

 

Some ethanol producers have faced financial distress, culminating with bankruptcy filings by several companies over the past five years. This, in combination with continued volatility in the capital markets has resulted in reduced availability of capital for the ethanol industry generally. Construction of our plants and anticipated levels of required working capital were funded under long-term credit facilities. Increases in liquidity requirements could occur due to, for example, increased commodity prices. Our operating cash flow is dependent on our ability to profitably operate our businesses and overall commodity market conditions. In addition, we may need to raise additional financing to fund growth of our businesses. In some market environments, we may experience limited access to incremental financing. This could cause us to defer or cancel growth projects, reduce our business activity or, if we are unable to meet our debt repayment schedules, cause a default in our existing debt agreements. These events could have an adverse effect on our operations and financial position.

 

Our subsidiaries’ debt facilities have ongoing payment requirements which we generally expect to meet from their operating cash flow. Our ability to repay current and anticipated future indebtedness will depend on our financial and operating performance and on the successful implementation of our business strategies. Our financial and operational performance will depend on numerous factors including prevailing economic conditions, volatile commodity prices, and financial, business and other factors beyond our control. If we cannot pay our debt service, as well as refinance or extend current debt at scheduled maturity dates, we may be forced to reduce or delay capital expenditures, sell assets, restructure our indebtedness or seek additional capital. If we are unable to restructure our indebtedness or raise funds through sales of assets, equity or otherwise, our ability to operate could be harmed and the value of our stock could be significantly reduced.

 

We are a holding company, and there are limitations on our ability to receive distributions from our subsidiaries.

 

We conduct most of our operations through subsidiaries and are dependent upon dividends or other intercompany transfers of funds from our subsidiaries to generate free cash flow. Moreover, some of our subsidiaries are currently, or are expected in the future to be, limited in their ability to pay dividends or make distributions to us by the terms of their financing agreements. Consequently, we are not able to rely on the cash flow from one subsidiary to satisfy the loan obligations of another subsidiary. As a result, if a subsidiary is unable to satisfy its loan obligations, we may not be able to prevent a default on the loan by providing additional cash to that subsidiary, even if sufficient cash exists elsewhere in our consolidated organization.

 

Our success may depend on our ability to manage our growing and changing operations.

 

Since our formation in 2004, our business has grown significantly in size and complexity. This growth has placed, and is expected to continue to place, significant demands on our management, systems, internal controls and financial and physical resources. In addition, if we acquire additional operations, we expect that we will need to further develop our financial and managerial controls and reporting systems to accommodate future growth. This will require us to incur expenses related to hiring additional qualified personnel, retaining professionals to assist in developing the appropriate control systems and expanding our information technology infrastructure. Our inability to manage growth effectively could have an adverse effect on our results of operations, financial position and cash flows.

 

Future acquisitions may involve the issuance of equity securities as payment or in connection with financing the business or assets acquired and, as a result, could dilute your ownership interest. In addition, additional debt may be necessary in order to complete these transactions, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition. The failure to successfully evaluate and execute acquisitions or joint ventures or otherwise adequately address the risks associated with acquisitions or joint ventures could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

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We may fail to realize all of the anticipated benefits of mergers and acquisitions that we have undertaken or may undertake because of integration challenges.

 

We have increased the size of our operations significantly through mergers and acquisitions and intend to continue to explore potential merger or acquisition opportunities . The anticipated benefits and cost savings of such mergers and acquisitions may not be realized fully, or at all, or may take longer to realize than expected. Acquisitions involve numerous risks, any of which could harm our business, including:

·

difficulties in integrating the operations, technologies, products, existing contracts, accounting processes and personnel of the target and realizing the anticipated synergies of the combined businesses;

·

risks relating to environmental hazards on purchased sites;

·

risks relating to acquiring or developing the infrastructure needed for facilities or acquired sites, including access to rail networks;

·

difficulties in supporting and transitioning customers, if any, of the target company;

·

diversion of financial and management resources from existing operations;

·

the purchase price or other devoted resources may exceed the value realized, or the value we could have realized if the purchase price or other resources had been allocated to another opportunity;

·

risks of entering new markets or areas in which we have limited or no experience, or are outside our core competencies;

·

potential loss of key employees, customers and strategic alliances from either our current business or the business of the target;

·

assumption of unanticipated problems or latent liabilities, such as problems with the quality of the target company’s products; and

·

inability to generate sufficient revenue to offset acquisition costs and development costs.

 

We also may pursue growth through joint ventures or partnerships. Partnerships and joint ventures typically involve restrictions on actions that the partnership or joint venture may take without the approval of the partners. These types of provisions may limit our ability to manage a partnership or joint venture in a manner that is in our best interest but is opposed by our other partner or partners.

 

Future acquisitions may involve the issuance of equity securities as payment or in connection with financing the business or assets acquired and, as a result, could dilute your ownership interest. In addition, additional debt may be necessary in order to complete these transactions, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition. The failure to successfully evaluate and execute acquisitions or joint ventures or otherwise adequately address the risks associated with acquisitions or joint ventures could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

We may fail to realize the anticipated benefits of our joint venture to commercialize algae production.

 

We have majority ownership in a joint venture that is focused on developing technology to grow and harvest algae, which consume carbon dioxide, in commercially viable quantities. We do not possess requisite control of this investment to consolidate it. The algae produced have the potential to be used for high-quality feedstocks for human nutrition, pharmaceutical applications, animal feed and biofuels, but our current primary focus is on efficiently growing and developing primary markets for algae on a large scale. We believe this technology has specific applications with facilities that emit carbon dioxide, including ethanol plants. However, we may fail to realize the expected benefits of capturing carbon dioxide to grow and harvest algae as acceptable production rates, operating costs, capital requirements and product market prices may not be achieved.

 

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Our ability to successfully operate is dependent on the availability of energy and water at anticipated prices.

 

Our plants require a significant and uninterrupted supply of natural gas, electricity and water to operate. We rely on third parties to provide these resources. We cannot assure you that we will be able to secure an adequate supply of energy or water to support current and expected plant operations. If there is an interruption in the supply of energy or water for any reason, such as supply, delivery or mechanical problems, we may be required to halt production. If production is halted for an extended period of time, it may have a material adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

Replacement technologies that are under development might result in the obsolescence of corn-derived ethanol or our process systems.

 

Ethanol is primarily an additive and oxygenate for blended gasoline. Although use of oxygenates is currently mandated, there is always the possibility that a preferred alternative product will emerge and eclipse the current market. Critics of ethanol blends argue that ethanol decreases fuel economy, causes corrosion of ferrous components and damages fuel pumps. Any alternative oxygenate product would likely be a form of alcohol (like ethanol) or ether (like MTBE). Prior to federal restrictions and ethanol mandates, MTBE was the dominant oxygenate. It is possible that other ether products could enter the market and prove to be environmentally or economically superior to ethanol. It is also possible that alternative biofuel alcohols such as methanol and butanol could evolve into ethanol replacement products.

 

Research is currently underway to develop other products that could directly compete with ethanol and may have more potential advantages than ethanol. Advantages of such competitive products may include, but are not limited to: lower vapor pressure, making it easier to add gasoline; energy content closer to or exceeding that of gasoline, such that any decrease in fuel economy caused by the blending with gasoline is reduced; an ability to blend at a higher concentration level for use in standard vehicles; reduced susceptibility to separation when water is present; and suitability for transportation in petroleum pipelines. Such products could have a competitive advantage over ethanol, making it more difficult to market our ethanol, which could reduce our ability to generate revenue and profits.

 

New ethanol process technologies may emerge that require less energy per gallon produced. The development of such process technologies would result in lower production costs. Our process technologies may become outdated and obsolete, placing us at a competitive disadvantage against competitors in the industry. The development of replacement technologies may have a material adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

We may be required to provide remedies for the delivery of off-specification ethanol, distillers grains or corn oil.

 

If we produce or purchase ethanol, distillers grains or corn oil that does not meet the specifications defined by our sales contract, we may be subject to quality claims requiring us to refund the purchase price of any non-conforming product or replace any non-conforming product at our expense. We may be forced to purchase replacement quantities of ethanol, distillers grains or corn oil at higher prices to fulfill these contractual obligations. In addition, ethanol, distillers grains or corn oil purchased from other producers, including producers that we provide marketing and distribution services for, and subsequently sold to others may result in similar claims if the product does not meet applicable contract specifications.

 

We are exposed to credit risk resulting from the possibility that a loss may occur from the failure of our contractual counterparties to perform according to the terms of our agreements.

 

In selling ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil we may experience concentrations of credit risk from a variety of customers, including major integrated oil companies, large independent refiners, petroleum wholesalers, other marketers and jobbers. We are also exposed to credit risk resulting from sales of grain to large commercial buyers, including other ethanol plants. Our fixed-price forward contracts also result in credit risk when prices change significantly prior to delivery. In addition, we may prepay for or make deposits on undelivered inventories. Concentrations of credit risk with respect to inventory advances are primarily with a few major suppliers of petroleum products and agricultural inputs. The inability of a third party to make payments to us for our sales, to provide product to us on advances made, or to perform on fixed-price contracts  may cause us to experience losses and may adversely impact our liquidity and our ability to make our payments when due.

 

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A loss may occur from the failure of our counterparties to perform according to the terms of their marketing agreements.

 

Under our third-party marketing agreement, we purchase all of a third-party producer’s ethanol production. In turn, we sell the ethanol in various markets for future deliveries. Under this marketing agreement, the third-party producer is not obligated to produce any minimum amount of ethanol and we cannot assure you that we will receive the full amount of ethanol that this third-party plant is expected to produce. The interruption or curtailment of production by this third-party producer for any reason could cause us to be unable to deliver quantities of ethanol sold under the contract. As a result, we may be forced to purchase replacement quantities of ethanol at higher prices to fulfill this contractual obligation. However, these recoveries would be dependent on our third-party producer’s ability to pay, and in the event they were unable to pay, our profitability could be materially and adversely impacted.

 

We are exposed to potential business disruption from factors outside our control, including natural disasters, seasonality, severe weather conditions, accidents, and unforeseen operational failures due to faulty construction design or other factors, any of which could adversely affect our cash flows and operating results.

 

Potential business disruption in available transportation due to natural disasters, significant track damage resulting from a train derailment, or strikes by our transportation providers could result in delays in procuring and supplying raw materials to our ethanol or grain facilities, or transporting ethanol and distillers grains to our customers. We also run the risk of unforeseen operational issues, due to faulty construction design or other factors that may result in an extended facility shutdown. Such business disruptions would cause the normal course of our business operations to stall and may result in our inability to meet customer demand or contract delivery requirements, as well as the potential loss of customers.

 

Many of our grain business activities, as well as corn procurement for our ethanol plants, are dependent on weather conditions. Adverse weather may result in a reduction in grain harvests caused by inadequate or excessive amounts of rain during the growing season, or by overly wet conditions, an early freeze or snowy weather during the harvest season. Additionally, corn stored in an open pile may become damaged by too much rain and warm weather before the corn is dried, shipped, consumed or moved into a storage structure.

 

Casualty losses may occur for which we have not secured adequate insurance.

 

We have acquired insurance that we believe to be adequate to prevent loss from material foreseeable risks. However, events occur for which no insurance is available or for which insurance is not available on terms that are acceptable to us. Loss from such an event, such as, but not limited to war, riot, terrorism or other risks, may not be insured and such a loss may have a material adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial position.

 

Our Obion, Tennessee plant is located within a recognized seismic zone as are certain of our fuel terminals. The design of the Obion facility has been modified to fortify it to meet structural requirements for that region of the country. We have also obtained additional insurance coverage specific to earthquake risk for this plant and the fuel terminals. However, there is no assurance that any such facility would remain in operation if a seismic event were to occur.

 

Terrorist attacks, cyber-attacks, threats of war or actual war, or failure of our internal computer network and applications to operate as designed may negatively affect our operations.

 

Terrorist attacks in the United States, as well as events occurring in response to or in connection with them, including threats of war or actual war, may adversely affect our operations. Ethanol-related assets (including ethanol production plants, storage facilities, fuel terminals and railcars such as those owned and operated by us) may be at greater risk of future terrorist attacks than other possible targets. A direct attack on our assets or assets used by us could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. In addition, any terrorist attack could have an adverse impact on ethanol prices. Disruption or significant increases in ethanol prices could result in government-imposed price controls.

 

We rely on network infrastructure and enterprise applications, and internal technology systems for our operational, marketing support and sales, and product development activities. The hardware and software systems related to such activities are subject to damage from earthquakes, floods, lightning, tornados, fire, power loss, telecommunication failures and other similar events. They are also subject to acts such as computer viruses, physical or electronic vandalism or other similar disruptions that could cause system interruptions and loss of critical data, and could prevent us from fulfilling our customers’ orders. We cannot assure that any of our backup systems would be sufficient. Any event that causes failures or interruption in our hardware or software systems could result in disruption of our business operations, have a negative impact on our operating results, and damage our reputation.

 

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We may not be able to hire and retain qualified personnel to operate our ethanol plants.

 

Our success depends, in part, on our ability to attract and retain competent personnel. Qualified managers, engineers, merchandisers, operations and other personnel must be hired for each of our locations. Competition for such employees in the ethanol industry can be intense, and we may not be able to attract and retain qualified personnel. If we are unable to hire and retain productive and competent personnel, the amount of ethanol we produce may decrease and we may not be able to efficiently operate our ethanol plants and execute our business strategy.

 

Our access to capital may be negatively impacted if disruptions in credit markets occur or if credit rating downgrades occur.

 

Events may occur which could cause us to seek additional capital. If rating agencies downgrade our credit rating or disruptions in credit markets were to occur, the cost of debt under our existing financing arrangements, as well as future financing arrangements and borrowings, could increase. Access to capital markets could become unavailable or may only be available under less favorable terms. A downgrade of our credit ratings may also affect our ability to trade with various commercial counterparties or cause our counterparties to require other forms of credit support.

 

We have had a history of operating losses and may incur future operating losses.

 

We incurred operating losses from 2006 to 2008, as well as during the first three quarters of 2012, and may incur operating losses in the future, which could be substantial. Although we have had periods of sustained profitability, we may not be able to maintain or increase profitability on a quarterly or annual basis, which could result in a decrease in the trading price of our common stock.

 

Risks relating to ownership of our common stock

 

The price of our common stock may be volatile. 

 

The trading price of our common stock may be highly volatile and could be subject to fluctuations in response to a number of factors beyond our control. Some of these factors are:

·

our results of operations and the performance of our competitors;

·

the public’s reaction to our press releases, other public announcements and filings with the SEC;

·

changes in earnings estimates or recommendations by research analysts who follow us or other companies in our industry;

·

changes in general economic conditions;

·

changes in market prices for our products or for our raw materials;

·

actions of our historical equity investors, including sales of common stock by our directors, executive officers and significant shareholders;

·

actions by institutional investors trading in our stock;

·

disruption of our operations;

·

any major change in our management team;

·

other developments affecting us, our industry or our competitors; and

·

U.S. and international economic, legal and regulatory factors unrelated to our performance.

 

In recent years the stock market has experienced significant price and volume fluctuations. These fluctuations may be unrelated to the operating performance of particular companies. These broad market fluctuations may cause declines in the market price of our common stock. The price of our common stock could fluctuate based upon factors that have little or nothing to do with our Company or its performance, and those fluctuations could materially reduce our common stock price.

 

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Anti-takeover provisions could make it difficult for a third party to acquire us.

 

Our second amended and restated articles of incorporation, our amended and restated bylaws and Iowa law contain anti-takeover provisions that could have the effect of delaying or preventing changes in control of us or our management. These provisions could also discourage proxy contests and make it more difficult for our shareholders to elect directors and take other corporate actions without the concurrence of our Board of Directors. The provisions in our charter documents include the following:

 

·

a classified Board of Directors pursuant to which our directors are divided into three classes, with three-year staggered terms;

·

members of our Board of Directors can only be removed for cause by shareholders with the affirmative vote of not less than two-thirds of the outstanding shares of capital stock;

·

shareholder action may be taken only at a special or annual meeting, and not by any written consent, except where required by Iowa law;

·

our bylaws restrict our shareholders’ ability to make proposals at shareholder meetings; and

·

our Board of Directors has the ability to cause us to issue authorized and unissued shares of stock from time to time.

 

We are subject to the provisions of the Iowa Business Corporations Act, or IBCA, under which, certain business combinations between an Iowa corporation whose stock is publicly traded or held by more than 2,000 shareholders and an interested shareholder are prohibited for a three-year period following the date that such a shareholder became an interested shareholder unless certain exemption requirements are met. In addition, certain other provisions of the IBCA may have anti-takeover effects in certain situations.

 

Certain provisions in the convertible notes and the related indenture could make it more difficult or more expensive for a third party to acquire us. For example, if a takeover would constitute a fundamental change, holders of the notes will have the right to require us to repurchase their notes in cash. In addition, if a takeover constitutes a make-whole fundamental change, we may be required to increase the conversion rate for holders who convert their notes in connection with such takeover. In either case, and in other cases, our obligations under the notes and the related indenture could increase the cost of acquiring us or otherwise discourage a third party from acquiring us or removing incumbent management.

 

The foregoing items may discourage transactions that otherwise could provide for the payment of a premium over prevailing market prices of our common stock and also could limit the price that investors are willing to pay in the future for shares of our common stock.

 

Non-U.S. holders may be subject to U.S. income tax with respect to gain on disposition of their common stock.

 

If we are or have been a U.S. real property holding corporation at any time within the shorter of the five-year period preceding a disposition of common stock by a non-U.S. holder or such holder’s holding period of the stock disposed of, such non-U.S. holder may be subject to United States federal income tax with respect to gain on such disposition. Because the determination of whether we are a USRPHC depends on the fair market value of our United States real property interests relative to the fair market value of our other trade or business assets and our non-U.S. real property interests, there can be no assurance that we are not a USRPHC or will not become one in the future. 

 

31

 


 

 

 

 

Item 1B.  U nresolved Staff Comments.

 

None.

 

I tem 2.  P rope rties .

 

Our loan agreements grant a security interest in substantially all of our owned real property. See Note 10 – Debt   included herein as part of the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements for a discussion of our loan agreements .

 

Corporate

 

We currently lease ap proximately 30,000 squa re feet of office space at 450   Regency Parkway in Omaha, Nebraska for our corporate headquarters , which houses our corporate administrative functions and commodity trading operations .

 

Ethanol Production Segment

 

As detailed in our discussion of the ethanol production segment, we ow n a total of approximately 2,000 acres of land at and in areas surrounding our ethanol plants with a combined annual ethanol production capacity of over one billion gal lons. We believe that the property owned and leased at the sites of our ethanol plants will be adequate to accommodate our current needs, as well as potential expansion, at those sites.  

 

Agribusiness Segment

 

As detailed in our discussion of the agribusiness segment above, we own a total of approximately 50 acres of land at our grain elevators with a combine d grain storage capacity of 9.0 million bushels, and own approximately 2,600 acres of land at our cattle-feeding operation, which has the capacity to support 70,000 head of cattle, and approximately 3.8 million bushels of grain storage capacity. We believe that the property owned will be adequate to accommodate our current needs, as well as potential expansion, at those sites.

 

Marketing and Distribution Segment

 

Our   ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil marketing   operations are primarily located at our corporate office, which is discussed above. We also lease office space in McKi nney, Texas and Des Moines, Iowa for these operations. We own approximately 9.0 acres of land and lease approximately 19 acres of land at eight locations in se ven south central U.S. states , as disclosed in Item 1 Business , for our fuel terminal services. We believe that the property owned and leased at the locations will be adequate to accommodate our current needs, as well as potential expansion.

 

Item 3.  Legal Proc eedings.

 

We are currently involved in litigation that has arisen in the ordinary course of business; however, we do not believe that any of this litigation will have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows.

 

I tem 4.  Mine Safety Disclosures .

 

Not applicable.

32

 


 

 

 

 

PART II

 

I tem 5.  Market fo r Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities .

 

Our common stock trades under the symbol GPRE on The NASDAQ Global Market , or NASDAQ . The following table sets forth, for the periods indicated, the high and low common stock sale price s as reported by NASDAQ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31, 2014

 

High

 

Low

Three months ended December 31, 2014 (1)

 

$

37.77 

 

$

21.19 

Three months ended September 30, 2014

 

 

46.28 

 

 

32.56 

Three months ended June 30, 2014

 

 

33.52 

 

 

25.62 

Three months ended March 31, 2014

 

 

31.57 

 

 

18.02 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31, 2013

 

High

 

Low

Three months ended December 31, 2013

 

$

20.00 

 

$

13.78 

Three months ended September 30, 2013

 

 

18.40 

 

 

13.37 

Three months ended June 30, 2013

 

 

16.54 

 

 

10.32 

Three months ended March 31, 2013

 

 

12.40 

 

 

7.51 

(1) The closing price of our common stock on December 31, 2014 was $24.78.

 

Holders of Record

 

As of December 31, 201 4 , as reported to us by our transfer agent, there we re 2,296 holders of record of our common stock, not including beneficial holders whose shares are held in names other than their own. This figure does not include approximat ely 32.3 million shares held in d epository trusts.  

 

Dividend Policy

 

In August 2013, our Board of Directors approved the initiation of a q uarterly cash dividend. We paid a quarterly cash dividend of $0.04 per share during the third and fourth quarters of 2013, as well as the first and second quarters of 2014, and a dividend of $0.08 per share during the third and fourth quarters of 2014. We anticipate declaring a cash dividend in future quarters on a regular basis; however, future declarations of dividends are subject to Board approval and may be adjusted as our liquidity , business needs or market conditions change.

 

Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

Employees surrender shares upon the vesting of restricted stock grants to satisfy statutory minimum required payroll tax withholding obligations. The following table sets forth the shares that were surrendered by month during the fourth quarter of 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Month

 

Total Number of Shares Withheld

 

Average Price Paid per Share

October

 

 -

 

$

 -

November

 

2,022 

 

 

34.20 

December

 

 -

 

 

 -

Total

 

2,022 

 

$

34.20 

 

In August 2014, we announced a share repurchase program of up to $100 million of our common stock. Under the share repurchase program, we may repurchase shares from time to time in open market transacti ons, privately- negotiated transactions, accelerated share buyback programs, tender offers or by other means. The timing and amount of repurchase transactions will be determined by our management based on its evaluation of market conditions, share price, legal requirements and other factors. The program may be suspended, modified or discontinued at any time without prior notice.  No shares have been repurchased pursuant to this repurchase program.

 

33

 


 

 

 

 

Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities

 

None.

 

Equity Compensation Plans

 

Refer to Part III, Item 12, contained herein, for information regarding shares authorized for issuance under equity compensation plans.

 

Performance Graph

 

The following line-graph compares our cumulative stockholder return on an indexed basis with the NASDAQ Composite Index (IXIC) and the NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index (CELS) for the years ended December 31, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The graph assumes that the value of the investment in our common stock and each index was $100 at December 31, 2009, and that all dividends were reinvested.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12/09

 

12/10

 

12/11

 

12/12

 

12/13

 

12/14

Green Plains Inc.

 

$

100.00 

 

$

75.72 

 

$

65.64 

 

$

53.19 

 

$

130.96 

 

$

168.64 

NASDAQ Composite

 

 

100.00 

 

 

117.61 

 

 

118.70 

 

 

139.00 

 

 

196.83 

 

 

223.74 

NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy

 

 

100.00 

 

 

104.21 

 

 

63.71 

 

 

65.59 

 

 

121.90 

 

 

126.44 

 

The information contained in the Performance Graph will not be deemed to be soliciting material or to be filed with the SEC, nor will such information be incorporated by reference into any future filing under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended , or the Securities Act, or under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 , except to the extent that we specifically incorporate it by reference into any such filing.

 

34

 


 

 

 

 

I tem 6.  S elected Financial Data .

 

The following selected financial data have been derived from our consolidated financial statements. The statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2014, 2013 and 2012, and the balance sheet data as of December 31, 2014 and 2013 are derived from and should be read in conjunction with our audited consolidated financial statements, including accompanying notes, included elsewhere in this report. The statement of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2011 and 2010, and the balance sheet data as of December 31, 2012, December 31, 2011 and December 31, 2010 were derived from our audited consolidated financial statements not included in this report, which also contain a description of a number of matters that materially affect the comparability of the periods presented. The data should be read together with Item 7 – Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations of this report. The financial information below is not necessarily indicative of results to be expected for any future period. Future results could differ materially from historical results due to many factors, including those discussed in Item 1A – Risk Factors of this report.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

2014

 

2013

 

2012

 

2011

 

2010

Statement of Operations Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(in thousands, except per share information)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenues

$

3,235,611 

 

$

3,041,011 

 

$

3,476,870 

 

$

3,553,712 

 

$

2,133,922 

Cost of goods sold

 

2,860,813 

 

 

2,867,991 

 

 

3,380,099 

 

 

3,381,480 

 

 

1,981,396 

Gross profit

 

374,798 

 

 

173,020 

 

 

96,771 

 

 

172,232 

 

 

152,526 

Selling, general and administrative expenses

 

(88,524)

 

 

(65,169)

 

 

(79,019)

 

 

(73,219)

 

 

(60,475)

Gain on disposal of assets (1)

 

 -

 

 

 -

 

 

47,133 

 

 

 -

 

 

 -

Operating income

 

286,274 

 

 

107,851 

 

 

64,885 

 

 

99,013 

 

 

92,051 

Total other expense

 

(35,844)

 

 

(35,570)

 

 

(39,729)

 

 

(37,114)

 

 

(26,000)

Net income

 

159,504 

 

 

43,391 

 

 

11,763 

 

 

38,213 

 

 

48,162 

Net income attributable to Green Plains

 

159,504 

 

 

43,391 

 

 

11,779 

 

 

38,418 

 

 

48,012 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earnings per share attributable to Green Plains:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basic

$

4.37 

 

$

1.44 

 

$

0.39 

 

$

1.09 

 

$

1.55 

Diluted

$

3.96 

 

$

1.26 

 

$

0.39 

 

$

1.01 

 

$

1.51 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Data:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EBITDA (unaudited and in thousands) (2)

$

350,700 

 

$

156,640 

 

$

115,505 

 

$

148,620 

 

$

129,550 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 31,

 

2014

 

2013

 

2012

 

2011

 

2010

Balance Sheet Data (in thousands) :

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cash and cash equivalents

$

425,510 

 

$

272,027 

 

$

254,289 

 

$

174,988 

 

$

233,205 

Current assets

 

910,910 

 

 

633,305 

 

 

568,035 

 

 

576,420 

 

 

606,686 

Total assets

 

1,828,557 

 

 

1,532,045 

 

 

1,349,734 

 

 

1,420,828 

 

 

1,397,779 

Current liabilities

 

511,540 

 

 

409,197 

 

 

432,384 

 

 

360,965 

 

 

342,503 

Long-term debt

 

399,440 

 

 

480,746 

 

 

362,549 

 

 

493,407 

 

 

527,900 

Total liabilities

 

1,031,108 

 

 

986,687 

 

 

859,232 

 

 

915,471 

 

 

900,137 

Stockholders' equity

 

797,449 

 

 

545,358 

 

 

490,502 

 

 

505,357 

 

 

497,642 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) In December 2012, we sold 12 grain elevators located in northwestern Iowa and western Tennessee consisting of approximately 32.6 million bushels of grain storage capacity and all of our agronomy and retail petroleum operations.

( 2 ) Management uses earnings before interest , income taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, to compare the financial performance of our business segments and to internally manage those segments. Management believes that EBITDA provides useful information to investors as a measure of comparison with peer and other companies. EBITDA should not be considered an alternative to, or more meaningful than, net income or cash flow as determined in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. EBITDA calculations may vary from company to company. Accordingly, our computation of EBITDA may not be comparable with a similarly titled measure of another company. The following sets forth the reconciliation of net income to EBITDA for the periods indicated (in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

35

 


 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

2014

 

2013

 

2012

 

2011

 

2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net income

$

159,504 

 

$

43,391 

 

$

11,763 

 

$

38,213 

 

$

48,162 

Interest expense

 

39,908 

 

 

33,357 

 

 

37,521 

 

 

36,645 

 

 

26,144 

Income tax expense

 

90,926 

 

 

28,890 

 

 

13,393 

 

 

23,686 

 

 

17,889 

Depreciation and amortization

 

60,362 

 

 

51,002 

 

 

52,828 

 

 

50,076 

 

 

37,355 

EBITDA

$

350,700 

 

$

156,640 

 

$

115,505 

 

$

148,620 

 

$

129,550 

 

 

Item 7.  Managem ent’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.

 

General

 

The following discussion and analysis provides information which management believes is relevant to an assessment and understanding of our consolidated financial condition and results of operations. This discussion should be read in conjunction with the consolidated financial statements included herewith and notes to the consolidated financial statements thereto and the risk factors contained herein.

 

Overview

 

We are a Fortune 1000 , vertically-integrated producer, marketer and distributer of ethanol focused on generating stable operating margins through our diversified business segments and our risk management strategy. We believe that owning and operating assets throughout the ethanol value chain enables us to mitigate changes in commodity prices and differentiates us from companies focused only on ethanol production. W e have operations throughout the ethanol value chain, beginning upstream with our grain handling and storage operations, continuing through our ethanol , distillers grains and corn oil production operations, and ending downstream with o ur marketing, terminal and distribution services.  

 

In January 2012, we acquired a grain elevator located in St. Edward, Nebraska. The grain elevator is included in our agribusiness segment.

 

In December 2012, we sold 12 grain elevators located in northwestern Iowa and western Tennessee consisting of approximately 32.6 million bushels of our grain storage capacity and all of our agronomy and retail petroleum operations. We believe the sale of assets represented an opportunity to maximize shareholder value. Revenues and gross profit generated by the sold operations represented approximately 91% and 93%, respectively, of 2012 agribusiness segment results. We continue to operate grain handling and storage businesses through the retained grain handling assets and assets acquired or developed at or near our ethanol plants.

 

In June 2013, we acquired an ethanol plant located in Atkinson, Nebraska. The plant, which is part of our ethanol production segment, has production capacity o f approximately 50 mmgy, adding to our ethanol and distillers grains production. Corn oil extraction technology was installed at the plant in the fourth quarter of 2013. Also, in June 2013, we acquired a grain elevator in Archer, Nebraska , which is included in our agribusiness segment.

 

In November 2013, we acquired two ethanol plants located in Wood River, Nebraska and Fairmont, Minnesota. The plants, which are part of our ethanol production segment, have combined production capacity of 230 mmgy, adding to our ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil production. The Fairmont, Minnesota plant, which was not operational at the time of its acquisition, began operations in January 2014 upon completion of certain maintenance and enhancement projects .

 

In June 2014, we acquired the assets of a cattle-feeding business near Kismet, Kansas, which includes a feedlot and grain storage facility. The operation, which is part of our agribusiness segment, consists of approximately 2,600 acres of land, which has the capacity to support 70,000 head of cattle, and corn storage capacity of approximately 3.8 million bushels.

 

Our management reviews our operations in four separate operating segments:

 

·

Ethanol Production.  We are North America’s fourth largest ethanol producer. We operate twelve ethanol plants in Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska and Tennessee. We have the capacity to consume approximately 360 million bushels of corn per year and produce over one billion gallons of ethanol and approximately 2.9 million tons of distillers grains annually.

36

 


 

 

 

 

·

Corn Oil Production.  We operate corn oil extraction systems at our ethanol plants, with the capacity to produce approximately 250 million pounds annually. The corn oil systems are designed to extract non-edible corn oil, a value-added product, fr om the whole stillage immediately prior to production of distillers grains. Industrial uses for corn oil include feedstock for biodiesel, livestock feed additives, rubber substitutes, rust preventatives, inks, textiles, soaps and insecticides.

·

Agribusiness.  Within our bulk grain business, we have grain storage capacity of approximately 42.2 million bushels. Our cattle feedlot operation has the capacity to support approximately 70,000 head of cattle. We believe our agribusiness operations provide synergies with our ethanol production segment as it supplies a portion of the feedstock and utilizes a portion of the distillers grains output of our ethanol plants.

·

Marketing and Distribution.  Our in-house marketing business is responsible for the sale, marketing and distribution of all ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil produced at our ethanol plants. We also market and provide logistical services for ethanol and other commodities for a third-party producer. We purchase and sell ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil, grain, natural gas and other commodities and participate in other merchant trading activities in various markets. Additionally, we own and operate eight fuel terminals with approximately 8 22 million gallons per year, or mmgy, of total throughput capacity in seven south central U.S. states. To optimize the value of our assets, we utilize a portion of our leased railcar fleet to transport crude oil for third parties.

 

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 meet our design, engineering, valuation and geographic criteria. We believe certain expansion projects could be implemented at our ethanol plants that have the potential to utilize the strategic location and capacity of these assets and cost effectively increase our annual production. In our marketing and distribution segment, our strategy is to build or acquire additional fuel terminal facilities, expand our marketing efforts by entering into new or renewal contracts with other ethanol producers and realize additional profit margins by optimizing our commodity logistics. In 2013, we began to implement a plan to realign our agribusiness operations by adding grain storage capacity located at or near our ethanol plants to take advantage of our current infrastructure and enhance our corn origination and trading capabilities. We intend to continue to add grain storage capacity with the goal of owning approximately 50 million bushels of total storage capacity by the end of 2015. We also intend to pursue opportunities to develop or acquire additional grain elevators, specifically those located near our ethanol plants. We believe that owning additional grain handling and storage operations in close proximity to our ethanol plants enables us to strengthen relationships with local corn producers, allowing us to source corn more effectively and at a lower average cost. We have majority ownership in a joint venture that is focused on developing technology to grow and harvest algae, which consume carbon dioxide, in commercially viable quantities.

 

Ethanol Industry Dynamics

 

U.S. Supply and Demand

 

Since 2001, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, or EIA, U.S. fuel e thanol consumption has increased at a rate of over 15% per year, from 1.7 billion gallons in 2001 to over 13.3 billion gal lons in 2013. In addition to government regulations which mandate the use of ethanol in blending, ethanol acts as both an octane enhancer and fuel stock extender. According to Ethanol Pr oducer Magazine, as of December 31, 2014, there were 213 ethanol plants within the United States, capable of producing 15.9 billion gall ons a year. Further, the fuel ethanol production market is fairly fragmented with the top five producers, with us being the fourth largest, accounting for approximately 4 0 % of overall production.

 

With ethanol comprising approximately 10% of the U.S. gasoline market and wholesale CBOB gasoline being the primary feedstock of finished gasoline in the United States, there is an economic relationship between the two, particularly with regard to blending gasoline. Blenders generally have been able to charge the same amount for E10 (gasoline with 10% ethanol) that 100% gasoline would sell for, thereby realizing the difference between less-expensive ethanol and gasoline as a profit margin, resulting in ethanol being an economic source for octane and renewable fuel requirements.

 

Global Supply and Demand

 

The United States is the world’s largest producer and consumer of fuel ethanol. According to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service, collectively, the United States and Brazil account for over 80% of all fuel ethanol production and fuel ethanol consumption (based on latest publically-available data). Rather than producing ethanol using corn as its primary feedstock, Brazil’s ethanol production is sugarcane-based.

37

 


 

 

 

 

 

Led by the United States, global ethanol production has grown significantly over recent year s, as approximately 30 countries either mandate or incentivize ethanol and bio-diesel blending for motor fuels. Annual reported global production has increased from approximately 5.0 billion gallons in 2001 to approximately 23.4 billion gallons i n 2013, according to the EIA. We believe ethanol, as a proportion of total transportation fuels, will continue to experience increasing global demand due to a continuing focus on reducing reliance on petroleum-based transportation fuels.

 

In 2010, the United States became the world's leading supplier of ethanol, according to the EIA. In 2013, the United States imported a pproximately 300 million gallon s and exported approxima tely 600 million gallons of ethanol, the latter of which was the third highest annual total on record. U.S. ethanol exports were approximately 727 million gallons and imports were approximately 561 million gallons for 2012 . At present, approximately 94% of the ethanol produced domestically is used and marketed to the United States, with the remaining being used and marketed worldwide , mainly in Canada. A ccording to Credit Suisse Securities Research and Analysis, global demand for ethan ol could grow at a rate of 2% to 3% annually, which equates to an additional need for 200 million to 300 million gallons o f fuel grade ethanol.

 

According to the “Renewable Energy Top Markets for U.S. Exports 2014-2015” report by the U.S. Department of Commerce – International Trade Administration, as more countries mandate the blending of ethanol, new export opportunities for U.S. ethanol producers are emerging. Through 2015, however, Canada and Brazil will likely remain the two largest export destinations for U.S. ethanol. However, the industry is developing into other markets such as Philippines, India, Mexico, South Korea and Peru. Additionally, Brazil, India and the Philippines are moving forward with higher blends of ethanol in their fuel – Brazil is planning to move to 27.5% from 25%, India is moving to a 10% ethanol blend from E5 and is giving consideration to a 20% fuel blend, and the Philippines is evaluating steps to move to higher blends from their current E10 mandate.

  

Industry Factors Affecting our Results of Operations

 

Variability of Commodity Prices.  Our operations and our industry are highly dependent on commodity prices, especially prices for corn, ethanol, distillers grains and natural gas. Because the market prices of these commodities are not always correlated, at times ethanol production may be unprofitable. As commodity price volatility poses a significant threat to our margin structure, we have developed a risk management strategy focused on locking in favorable operating margins when available. We continually monitor market prices of corn, natural gas and other input costs relative to the prices for ethanol and distillers grains at each of our production facilities. We create offsetting positions by using derivative instruments, fixed-price purchases and sales contracts, or a combination of strategies within strict limits. Our primary focus is not to manage general price movements of individual commodities, for example to minimize the cost of corn consumed, but rather to lock in favorable profit margins whenever possible. By using a variety of risk management tools and hedging strategies, including our internally-developed real-time margin management system, we believe we are able to maintain a disciplined approach to price risks.

 

In 2014, U.S. ethanol production was 13.6 billion gallons compared with production of 13.3 bill ion gallons in 2013. For 2014, 14.4 billion gal lons of conventional biofuels was mandated by the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS II. As a result of the U.S. ethanol industry rationalizing production, inventory stocks reached a low of 628 million gallons at the end of October 2013, the lowest level s ince October 2010. Domestic inventory stocks were 760 million gallons at December 31, 2014. Lower production, stocks and corn prices had a positive effect on ethanol margins in 2013, especially in the fourth quarter, continuing through 2014. Drought conditions in the midwestern region of the United States during 2012 caused corn to trade at unusually high prices thr ough the third quarter of 2013. Also, during 2012, sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil, which totaled approximately 530 million gallons, was one of the most economical means for certain parties to comply with an RFS II requirement to blend, in the aggregate, 2.0 billion gallons of advanced biofuels in 2012. Effective May 1, 2013, the Brazilian government increased the required percentage of ethanol in vehicle fuel sold in Brazil to 25 percent (from 20 percent) which, along with more competitively priced ethanol produced from corn, has reduced U.S. ethanol imports from Brazil. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in 2014 U.S. ethanol imports were approximately 75 million gallons and exports were approxi mately 835 million gallons, comp ared to ethanol impo rts of 400 million gallons and exports of 600 million gallons in 20 13. As of January 12, 2015, the USDA has projected the U.S. corn crop harvest to be a record 14.2 billion bushels with a projected yield per acre of 171.0 bushels on 83.1 million acres harvested. This corn production is anticipated to result in corn ending stocks of 1.9 billion bushels at August 31, 2015. We believe that U.S. ethanol production levels will continue to adjust to supply and demand factors for ethanol and corn.

 

There may be periods of time that, due to the variability of commodity prices and compressed margins, we reduce or cease ethanol production operations at certain of our ethanol plants. The reduced production rates increase ethanol yields and

38

 


 

 

 

 

optimize cash flow in lower margin environments. In 2012, we reduced production volumes at several of our ethanol plants which resulted in total production of approximately 91% of our total daily average capacity in direct response to unfavorable operating margins. During 2013 and 2014 we produced at approximately 94% and 96% of our total daily average capacity, respectively, due to an improvement in the ethanol margin environment.

 

Reduced Availability of Capital.  Some ethanol producers have faced financial distress over the past few years, culminating with bankruptcy filings by several companies. This, in combination with continued volatility in the capital markets, has resulted in reduced availability of capital for the ethanol industry in general. In this market environment, we may experience limited access to incremental financing.

 

Legislation.  Federal and state governments have enacted numerous policies and incentives to encourage the usage of domestically-produced alternative fuels. RFS II has been, and we expect will continue to be, a driving factor in the growth of ethanol usage. Due to drought conditions in 2012 and claims that blending of ethanol into the motor fuel supply will be constrained by unwillingness of the market to accept greater than ten percent ethanol blends, or the blend wall, legislation aimed at reducing or eliminating the renewable fuel use required by RFS II has been introduced into Congress.

 

To further drive the increased adoption of ethanol, Growth Energy, an ethanol industry trade association, and a number of ethanol producers requested a waiver from the EPA to increase the allowable amount of ethanol blended into gasoline from the current ten percent level, or E10, to a 15% level, or E15. Through a series of decisions beginning in October 2010, the EPA has granted a waiver for the use of E15 in model year 2001 and newer passenger vehicles, including cars, sport utility vehicles, and light pickup trucks. In June 2012, the EPA gave final approval for the sale and use of E15 ethanol blends. On June 24, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court decline d to hear an appeal from the American Petroleum Institute and other organizations challenging the EPA’s decision to permit the sale of E15. According to the EPA, a s of January 20, 2015, there were 110 gas statio ns i n 16 states offering E1 5 to consumers.

 

The Domestic Alternative Fuels Act of 2012 was introduced on January 18, 2012 in the U.S. House of Representatives and was re-introduced on March 15, 2013 as H.R. 1214 to provide liability protection for claims based on the sale or use of certain fuels and fuel additives. Passage of this bill would provide liability protection to consumers in the event they unintentionally put any transportation fuel into their motor vehicle for which such fuel has not been approved. Some automobile manufacturers have publicly stated that the use of fuels not approved in their owners’ manuals , such as E15, is considered misfueling and any resulting damage would not be covered by their warranties. The American Fuel Protection Act of 2013 , or H.R. 2267, was introduced on June 5, 2013 in the U.S. House of Representatives to make the United States exclusively liable for certain claims of liability for damages resulting from, or aggravated by, the inclusion of ethanol in transportation fuel. These bills failed to advance out of congressional committee and were not enacted into law.

 

The Master Limited Partnership Parity Act was introduced on April 24, 2013 in the U.S. House of Representatives as H.R. 1696 to extend the publicly traded partnership ownership structure to renewable energy projects. The legislation would provide a more level financing system and tax burden for renewable energy and fossil energy projects. 

 

Industry Fundamentals.     The ethanol industry is supported by a number of market fundamentals that drive its long-term outlook and extend beyond the short-term margin environment. Following the EPA’s approval, the industry is working to broadly introduce E15 into the retail fuel market. The RFS II mandate increased to 14.4 billion gallons of corn-derived renewable fuel for 2014, 600 million gallons over the mandated volume in 2013, and continues to increase through 2015. The EPA has not set mandated volumes for 2014 or 2015. RFS II, has been, and we expect will continue to be, a driving factor in the growth of ethanol usage in the United States .   The EPA will be making modifications to ensure that RINs generated in 2012 are valid for demonstrating compliance with the 2013 applicable standards.

 

The domestic gasoline market continues to evolve as refiners are producing more CBOB, a sub-grade (84 octane) gasoline, which requires ethanol or other octane sources to meet the minimu m octane rating requirements for the U.S. gasoline market. The demand for ethanol is also affected by the overall demand for transportation fuel. Currently, according to the EIA, total U.S. gasoline demand is approximately 135 billion gallons annually. The ethanol blend rate in 2014 was approximately 9.9% of total gasoline demand, or 13.5 billion gallons. Demand for transportation fuel is affected by the number of miles traveled by businesses and consumers and the fuel economy of v ehicles. Consumer acceptance of E15 and E85 (85% ethanol blended) fuels and flex-fuel vehicles is one factor that may be needed before ethanol can achieve any significant growth in market share. In addition, ethanol export markets, although affected by competition from other ethanol exporters, mainly from Brazil, are expected to remain active in 2014. Overall, the U.S. ethanol industry is producing at levels to meet current domestic and export demand and ethanol prices have remained at a discount to gasoline, providing blenders and refiners with an economic incentive to blend.

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BioProcess Algae Joint Venture

 

Our BioProcess Algae joint venture is focused on developing technology to grow and harvest algae, which consume carbon dioxide, in commercially viable quantities. Through multiple stages of expansion, BioProcess Algae has constructed a five-acre algae farm next to our Shenandoah, Iowa ethanol plant and has been operating its Grower Harvesters™ bioreactors since January 2011. The joint venture is currently focused on verification of growth rates, energy balances, capital requirements and operating expenses of the technology , which are considered to be some of the key steps to commercialization.

 

BioPro cess Algae announced in April 2013   that it had been selected to receive a grant of up to $6.4 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, or DOE, as part of a pilot-scale biorefinery project related to production of hydrocarbon fuels meeting military speci fication. The project uses renewable carbon dioxide, lignocellulosic sugars and waste heat through BioProcess Algae’s Grower Harvester™ technology platform. The objective of the project is to demonstrate technologies to cost-effectively convert biomass into advanced drop-in biofuels. BioProcess Algae is required to contribute a minimum of 50% matching funds for the project. The project with the DOE has been divided into three phases ,   with the first phase successfully completed in August 2014 . We have agreed with the DOE to move into the second phase in which the detailed design, engineering, scheduling and budgeting for construction of a pilot-scale integrated biorefinery will be developed. The third phase would involve construction of the biorefinery.

 

If we and the other BioProcess Algae members determine that the joint venture can achieve the desired economic performance, a larger build-out will be considered, possibly as large as 200 to 400 acres of Grower Harvester™ reactors at the Shenandoah site . Such a build-out may be completed in stages and could take up to two years to complete. Funding for such a project would come from a variety of sources including current partners, new equity investors, debt financing or a combination thereof. We increased our ownership of BioProcess Algae to approximately 63% during the second quarter of 2014. However, we still do not possess the requisite control of this investment to consolidate it.

 

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

 

This disclosure is based upon our consolidated financial statements, which have been prepared in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States. The preparation of these financial statements requires that we make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues and expenses, and related disclosure of contingent assets and liabilities. We base our estimates on historical experience and other assumptions that we believe are proper and reasonable under the circumstances. We regularly evaluate the appropriateness of estimates and assumptions used in the preparation of our consolidated financial statements. Actual results could differ materially from those estimates. Key accounting policies, including but not limited to those relating to revenue recognition, depreciation of property and equipment, impairment of long-lived assets and goodwill, derivative financial instruments, and accounting for income taxes, are impacted significantly by judgments, assumptions and estimates used in the preparation of the consolidated financial statements.

 

Revenue Recognition

 

We recognize revenue when all of the following criteria are satisfied: persuasive evidence of an arrangement exists; risk of loss and title transfer to the customer; the price is fixed and determinable; and collectability is reasonably assured.

 

For sales of ethanol, distillers grains and other commodities ,   revenue is recognized when title to the product and risk of loss transfer to an external customer.   Revenue related to marketing operations for third parties is recorded on a gross basis in the consolidated financial statements, as we take title to the product and assume risk of loss. Unearned revenue is reflected on our consolidated balance sheet s for goods in transit for which we have received payment and title has not been transferred to the customer. Revenues from our fuel terminal operations, which include ethan ol transload services, are recognized when these services are completed.

 

We routinely enter into fixed-price, physical-delivery ethanol sales agreements. In certain instances, we intend to settle the transaction by open market purchases of ethanol rather than by delivery from our own production. These transactions are reported net as a component of revenues. Revenues also include realized gains and losses on related derivative financial instruments, ineffectiveness on cash flow hedges, and reclassifications of realized gains and losses on effective cash flow hedges from accumulated other comprehensive income (loss).

 

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Sales of agricultural commodities, including cattle, are recognized when title to the product and risk of loss transfer to the customer, which is dependent on the agreed upon sales terms with the customer. These sales terms provide for passage of title either at the time shipment is made or at the time the commodity has been delivered to its destination and final weights, grades and settlement prices have been agreed upon with the customer. Revenues related to grain merchandising are presented gross in the statements of operations with amounts billed for shipping and handling included in revenues and also as a component of cost of goods sold. Revenues from grain storage are recognized as services are rendered.

 

Intercompany revenues are eliminated on a consolidated basis for reporting purposes.

 

Depreciation of Property and Equipment  

 

Property and equipment are stated at cost less accumulated depreciation. Depreciation on our ethanol production facilities, grain storage facilities, railroad track s , computer equipment and software, office furniture and equipment, vehicles, and other fixed assets has been provided on the straight-line method over the estimated useful lives of the assets, which currently range from 3 to 40 years.

 

Land improvements are capitalized and depreciated. Expenditures for property betterments and renewals are capitalized. Costs of repairs and maintenance are charged to expense as incurred.

 

We periodically evaluate whether events and circumstances have occurred that may warrant revision of the estimated useful life of fixed assets, which is accounted for prospectively.

 

Impairment of Long-Lived Assets and Goodwill

 

Our long-lived assets consist of property and equipment. We review long-lived assets for impairment whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of a long-lived asset may not be recoverable. We measure recoverability of assets to be held and used by comparing the carrying amount of an asset to the estimated undiscounted future cash flows expected to be generated by the asset. If the carrying amount of an asset exceeds its estimated future cash flows, we record an impairment charge in the amount by which the carrying amount of the asset exceeds the fair value of the asset. No impairment charges have been recorded during the periods presented.

 

Our goodwill consists of amounts relating to certain acquisitions within our ethanol production and marketing and distribution segments . We review goodwill at an individual plant or subsidiary level for impairment at least annually, as of October 1, or more frequently whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that impairment may have occurred. We assess t he qualitative factors of goodwill to determine whether it is more likely than not that the fair value of a reporting unit is less than its carrying amount as a basis for determining whether it is necessary to perform a two-step goodwill impairment test. Under the first step, we compare the estimated fair value of the reporting unit with its carrying value (including goodwill). If the estimated fair value of the reporting unit is less than its carrying value, we complete a second step to determine the amount of the goodwill impairment that we should record. In the second step, we determine an implied fair value of the reporting unit’s goodwill by allocating the reporting unit’s fair value to all of its assets and liabilities other than goodwill. We compare the resulting implied fair value of the goodwill to the carrying amount and record an impairment charge for the difference.

 

The reviews of long-lived assets and goodwill require making estimates regarding amount and timing of projected cash flows to be generated by an asset or asset group over an extended period of time. Management judgment regarding the existence of circumstances that indicate impairment is based on numerous potential factors including, but not limited to, a decline in our future projected cash flows, a decision to suspend operations at a plant for an extended period of time, a sustained decline in our market capitalization, a sustained decline in market prices for similar assets or businesses, or a significant adverse change in legal or regulatory factors or the business climate. Significant management judgment is required in determining the fair value of our long-lived assets and goodwill to measure impairment, including projections of future cash flows. Fair value is determined through various valuation techniques including discounted cash flow models, sales of comparable properties and third-party independent appraisals, as considered necessary. Changes in estimates of fair value could result in a write-down of the asset in a future period. Given the current economic and regulatory environment and uncertainties regarding the impact on our business, there are no assurances that our estimates and assumptions will prove to be an accurate prediction of the future.

 

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Derivative Financial Instruments  

 

To minimize the risk and the effects of the volatility of commodity price changes primarily related to corn, ethanol and natural gas, we use various derivative financial instruments, including exchange-traded futures, and exchange-traded and over-the-counter options contracts. We monitor and manage this exposure as part of our overall risk management policy. As such, we seek to reduce the potentially adverse effects that the volatility of these markets may have on our operating results. We may take hedging positions in these commodities as one way to mitigate risk. While we attempt to link our hedging activities to purchase and sales activities, there are situations in which these hedging activities can themselves result in losses.

 

By using derivatives to hedge exposures to changes in commodity prices, we have exposures on these derivatives to credit and market risk. We are exposed to credit risk that the counterparty might fail to fulfill its performance obligations under the terms of the derivative contract. We minimize our credit risk by entering into transactions with high quality counterparties, limiting the amount of financial exposure we have with each counterparty and monitoring the financial condition of our counterparties. Market risk is the risk that the value of the financial instrument might be adversely affected by a change in commodity prices or interest rates. We manage market risk by incorporating monitoring parameters within our risk management strategy that limit the types of derivative instruments and derivative strategies we use, and the degree of market risk that may be undertaken by the use of derivative instruments.

 

We evaluate our contracts that involve physical delivery to determine whether they may qualify for the normal purchase or normal sal e exemption and are expected to be used or sold over a reasonable period in the normal course of business. Any contracts that do not meet the normal purchase or sale criteria are recorded at fair value with the change in fair value recorded in operating income unless the contracts qualify for, and we elect, hedge accounting treatment.

 

Certain qualifying derivatives related to our ethanol production and agribusiness segments are designated as cash flow hedges. Prior to entering into cash flow hedges, we evaluate the derivative instrument to ascertain its effectiveness. For cash flow hedges, any ineffectiveness is recognized in current period results, while other unrealized gains and losses are reflected in accumulated other comprehensive income until gains and losses from the underlying hedged transaction are realized. In the event that it becomes probable that a forecasted transaction will not occur, we would discontinue cash flow hedge treatment, which would affect earnings. These derivative financial instruments are recognized in current assets or other current liabilities at fair value.

 

At times, we hedge our exposure to changes in the val ue of inventories and designate certain qualifying derivatives as fair value hedges. The carrying amount of the hedged inventory is adjusted through current period results for changes in the fair value arising from changes in underlying prices. Any ineffectiveness is recognized in current period results to the extent that the change in the fair value of the inventory is not offset by the change in the fair value of the derivative.

 

Accounting for Income Taxes

 

Income taxes are accounted for under the asset and liability method in accordance with GAAP.   Deferred tax assets and liabilities are recognized for the future tax consequences attributable to differences between the financial statement carrying amount of existing assets and liabilities and their respective tax basis and for net operating loss and tax credit carry-forwards. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply to taxable income in years in which those temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled. The effect of a change in tax rates on deferred tax assets and liabilities is recognized in operations in the period that includes the enactment date. The realization of deferred tax assets is dependent upon the generation of future taxable income during the periods in which temporary differences become deductible. Management considers scheduled reversal of deferred tax liabilities, projected future taxable income and tax planning strategies in making this assessment. Management’s evaluation of the need for, or reversal of, a valuation allowance must consider positive and negative evidence, and the weight given to the potential effects of such positive and negative evidence is based on the extent to which it can be objectively verified.

 

Related to accounting for uncertainty in income taxes, we follow a process by which the likelihood of a tax position is gauged based upon the technical merits of the position, perform a subsequent measurement related to the maximum benefit and the degree of likelihood, and determine the amount of benefit to be recognized in the financial statements, if any.  

 

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Recently Issued Accounting Pronouncements

 

Effective January 1, 2017, we will adopt the amended guidance in ASC Topic 606, Revenue from Contracts with Customers . The amended guidance requires revenue recognition to reflect the transfer of promised goods or services to customers and replaces existing revenue recognition guidance. The updated standard permits the use of either the retrospective or cumulative effect transition method. We have not yet selected a transition method nor have we determined the effect of the updated standard on our consolidated financial statements and related disclosures.

 

Off-Balance Sh eet Arrangements

 

We do not have any off-balance sheet arrangements that have or are reasonably likely to have a current or future material effect on our consolidated financial condition, results of operations or liquidity.  

 

Components of Revenues and Expenses

 

Revenues .  In our ethanol production segment, our revenues are derived primarily from the sale of ethanol and distillers grains, which is a co-product of the ethanol production process. In our corn oil production segment, our revenues are derived from the sale of corn oil, which is extracted from the whole stillage process immediately prior to the production of distillers grains. In our agribusiness segment, the sale of grain and cattle are our primary source of revenue. In our marketing and distribution segment, the sale of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil that we market for our ethanol plants, the sale of ethanol we market for a third-party ethanol plant and the sale of other commodities purchased in the open market represent our primary sources of revenue. Revenues also include net gains or losses from derivatives related to products sold .

 

Cost of Goods Sold.     Cost of goods sold in our ethanol production and corn oil production segments includes costs for direct labor, materials and certain plant overhead costs. Direct labor includes all compensation and related benefits of non-management personnel involved in the operation of our ethanol plants. Plant overhead costs primarily consist of plant utilities, plant depreciation and outbound freight charges. Our cost of goods sold in these segments is mainly affected by the cost of corn, natural gas, purchased distillers grains and transportation. Within our corn oil segment, we compensate the ethanol plants for the value of distillers grains displaced during the production process. In the ethanol production segment, corn is our most significant raw material cost. We purchase natural gas to power steam generation in our ethanol production process and to dry our distillers grains. Natural gas represents our second largest cost in this business segment. Cost of goods sold also includes net gains or losses from derivatives related to commodities purchased.

 

Grain acquisition costs represent the primary components of cost of goods sold in our agribusiness segment. Grain inventories held for sale, forward purchase contracts and forward sale contracts are valued at market prices, where available, or other market quotes adjusted for differences, primarily transportation, between the exchange-traded market and the local markets on which the terms of the contracts are based. Changes in the market value of grain inventories, forward purchase and sale contracts, and exchange-traded futures and options contracts are recognized in earnings as a component of cost of goods sold. In the cattle-feeding operation, the costs of cattle acq uired, feed and veterinary supplies , as well as direct labor and feedlot overhead costs, are accumulated as inventory and included as a component of cost of goods sold when the cattle are sold. Direct labor includes all compensation and related benefits of non-management personnel involved in the operation of our feedlot. Feedlot overhead costs primarily consist of feedlot utilities, depreciation, repairs and maintenance, and yard expenses.

 

In our marketing and distribution segment, purchases of ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil represent the largest components of cost of goods sold. Transportation expense represents an additional major component of our cost of goods sold in this segment. Transportation expense includes rail car leases, freight and shipping of our ethanol and co-products, as well as costs incurred in storing ethanol at destination terminals.

 

Selling, General and Administrative Expenses.   Selling, general and administrative expenses are recognized at the operating segment level, as well as at the corporate level. These expenses consist of employee salaries, incentives and benefits; office expenses; director fees; and professional fees for accounting, legal, consulting, and investor relations activities. Personnel costs, which include employee salaries, incentives and benefits, are the largest single category of expenditures in selling, general and administrative expenses. We refer to selling, general and administrative expenses that are not allocable to a segment as corporate activities.

 

Other Income (Expense).     Other income (expense) includes interest earned, interest expense, equity earnings in nonconsolidated subsidiaries and other non-operating items.

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Results of Operations

 

Comparability

 

The following summarizes various events that affect the comparability of our operating results for the past three years:

 

·

January 2012 St. Edward, Nebraska grain elevator was acquired

·

December 2012 Twelve grain elevators located in northwestern Iowa and western Tennessee

      and all agronomy and retail petroleum operations were sold

·

June 2013 Atkinson , Nebraska ethanol plant was acquired

·

June 2013 Archer, Nebraska grain elevator was acquired

·

November 2013 Fairmont , Minnesota and Wood River , Nebraska ethanol plants were acquired

·

June 2014 Kismet, Kansas cattle-feeding business was acquired

 

The year ended December 31, 2012 included eleven months of operations at our Tennessee and Iowa agribusiness operations that were divested in December 2012. The year ended December 31, 2013 includes approximately seven months of operations at our Atkinson plant and a little more than five weeks of operations at our Wood River plant. Our Fairmont plant, which was not operational at the time of its acquisition, began production in early January 2014. The year ended December 31, 2014 includes approximately six months of operations at our Kansas cattle-feeding business.

 

Segment Results

 

Our operations fall within the following four segments: (1) production of ethanol and related distillers grains, collectively referred to as ethanol production, (2) corn oil production, (3) grain handling and storage and cattle feedlot operations, collectively referred to as agribusiness, and (4) marketing, merchant trading and logistics services for Company-produced and third-party ethanol, distillers grains, corn oil and other commodities, and the operation of fuel terminal facilities, collectively referred to as marketing and distribution. Selling, general and administrative expenses, primarily consisting of compensation of corporate employees, professional fees and overhead costs not directly related to a specific operating segment, are reflected in the table below as corporate activities. When the Company’s management evaluates segment performance, they review the information provided below, as well as segment EBITDA.

 

During the normal course of business, our operating segments enter into transactions with one another. For example, our ethanol production and corn oil production segments sell ethanol, distillers grains and corn oil to our marketing and distribution segment and our agribusiness segment sells grain to our ethanol production segment. These intersegment activities are recorded by each segment at prices approximating market and treated as if they are third-party transactions. Consequently, these transactions impact segment performance. However, intersegment revenues and corresponding costs are eliminated in consolidation, and do not impact our consolidated results.

 

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The table s below reflect selected operating segment financial information for the perio ds indicated (in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31,

 

 

2014

 

2013

 

2012

Revenues:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ethanol production:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenues from external customers (1)

 

$

(51,424)

 

$

116,272 

 

$

200,443 

Intersegment revenues

 

 

2,222,446 

 

 

1,934,770 

 

 

1,708,800 

Total segment revenues

 

 

2,171,022 

 

 

2,051,042 

 

 

1,909,243 

Corn oil production:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenues from external customers (1)

 

 

 -

 

 

 -

 

 

529 

Intersegment revenues

 

 

79,750 

 

 

69,163 

 

 

57,315 

Total segment revenues

 

 

79,750 

 

 

69,163 

 

 

57,844 

Agribusiness:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenues from external customers (1)

 

 

100,436 

 

 

51,883 

 

 

408,622 

Intersegment revenues

 

 

1,208,120 

 

 

761,835 

 

 

176,062 

Total segment revenues

 

 

1,308,556 

 

 

813,718 

 

 

584,684 

Marketing and distribution:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Revenues from external customers (1)

 

 

3,186,599 

 

 

2,872,856 

 

 

2,867,276 

Intersegment revenues

 

 

171,201 

 

 

21,790 

 

 

355 

Total segment revenues

 

 

3,357,800 

 

 

2,894,646 

 

 

2,867,631 

Revenues including intersegment activity

 

 

6,917,128 

 

 

5,828,569 

 

 

5,419,402 

Intersegment eliminations

 

 

(3,681,517)

 

 

(2,787,558)

 

 

(1,942,532)

Revenues as reported

 

$

3,235,611 

 

$

3,041,011 

 

$

3,476,870