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EX-32.2 - EX-32.2 - Granite Falls Energy, LLCc749-20161031ex322652dee.htm
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EX-31.2 - EX-31.2 - Granite Falls Energy, LLCc749-20161031ex31263b6a9.htm
EX-31.1 - EX-31.1 - Granite Falls Energy, LLCc749-20161031ex3115e8e32.htm

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 October 31, 2016

 

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 000-51277

 

GRANITE FALLS ENERGY, LLC

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

 

 

Minnesota

 

41-1997390

(State or other jurisdiction of

 

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

incorporation or organization)

 

 

 

15045 Highway 23 SE, Granite Falls, MN 56241-0216

(Address of principal executive offices)

 

(320) 564-3100

(Registrant’s telephone number, including area code)

 

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

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: Membership Units

 

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

   Yes    ☒  No

 

Indicated 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 (§229.405 of this chapter) is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy 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 the definitions 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 Exchange Act).

 Yes    ☒  No

 

The aggregate market value of the 20,094 membership units held by non-affiliates of the registrant (computed by reference to the most recent offering price of membership units) was $20,094,000 as of April 30, 2016. The membership units are not listed on an exchange or otherwise publicly traded. Additionally, the membership units are subject to significant restrictions on transfer under the registrant’s operating and member control agreement. The value of the membership units for this purpose has been based solely upon the initial offering price of the membership units. In determining this value, the registrant has assumed that all of its governors, chief executive officer, chief financial officer and beneficial owners of 5% or more of its outstanding membership units are affiliates, but this assumption shall not apply to or be conclusive for any other purpose.

 

As of January 30, 2017, there were 30,606 membership units outstanding.

 

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

 

The registrant has incorporated by reference into Part III of this Annual Report on Form 10-K portions of its definitive proxy statement to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission within 120 days after the close of the fiscal year covered by this Annual Report (October 31, 2016). This proxy statement is referred to in this report as the 2017 Proxy Statement.

 

 


 

INDEX

 

 

 

 

 

    

Page Number

PART I 

 

Item 1. Business 

 

Item 1A. Risk Factors 

 

20 

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments 

 

31 

Item 2. Properties 

 

31 

Item 3. Legal Proceedings 

 

32 

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures 

 

32 

PART II 

 

32 

Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities 

 

32 

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 

 

55 

Item 8. Financial Statements and Supplementary Data 

 

58 

Item 9. Changes in and Disagreements with Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure 

 

83 

Item 9A. Controls and Procedures 

 

83 

Item 9B. Other Information 

 

84 

PART III 

 

84 

Item 10. Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance 

 

84 

Item 11. Executive Compensation 

 

84 

Item 12. Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters 

 

84 

Item 13. Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence 

 

84 

Item 14. Principal Accountant Fees and Services 

 

84 

PART IV 

 

85 

Item 15. Exhibits, Financial Statement Schedules 

 

85 

SIGNATURES 

 

85 

 

 

2


 

CAUTION REGARDING FORWARD LOOKING STATEMENTS

 

This annual report contains historical information, as well as forward-looking statements regarding our business, financial condition, results of operations, performance and prospects. All statements that are not historical or current facts are forward-looking statements and are made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks and relate to future events, our future financial performance, or our expected future operations and actions. In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by terminology such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “expect,” “plan,” “anticipate,” “believe,” “estimate,” “future,” “intend,” “could,” “hope,” “predict,” “target,” “potential,” or “continue” or the negative of these terms or other similar expressions. These forward-looking statements are only our predictions based on current information and involve numerous assumptions, risks and uncertainties, including, but not limited to the following:

 

·

Fluctuations in the prices of grain, utilities and ethanol, which are affected by various factors including weather, production levels, supply, demand, and availability of production inputs;

·

Changes in the availability and price of corn and natural gas;

·

Changes in general economic conditions or the occurrence of certain events causing an economic impact in the agriculture, oil or automobile industries;

·

Fluctuations in the price of crude oil and gasoline;

·

Ethanol may trade at a premium to gasoline at times, causing a disincentive for discretionary blending of ethanol beyond the requirements of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (“RFS”) and resulting in a negative impact on ethanol prices and demand;

·

Changes in federal and/or state laws and environmental regulations including elimination, waiver or reduction of the Renewable Fuels Standard, may have an adverse effect on our business;

·

Any impairment of the transportation, storage and blending infrastructure that prevents ethanol from reaching markets;

·

Any effect on prices of distillers’ grains resulting from actions in international markets, particularly anti-dumping and countervailing duties investigations by the Chinese government into U.S. distillers’ grains exported to China;

·

Changes in our business strategy, capital improvements or development plans;

·

The effect of our risk mitigation strategies and hedging activities on our financial performance and cash flows;

·

Alternative fuel additives may be developed that are superior to, or cheaper than ethanol;

·

Changes or advances in plant production capacity or technical difficulties in operating our plants;

·

Our ability to profitably operate our ethanol plants and maintain positive margins and generate free cash flow, which may impact our ability to meet current obligations, invest in our business, service our debt and satisfy the financial covenants contained in our credit agreement with our lender;

·

Changes in interest rates or the lack of credit availability;

·

Our ability to make distributions in light of financial covenants in our credit facility;

·

Our ability to retain key employees and maintain labor relations;

·

The supply of ethanol rail cars in the market has fluctuated in recent years and may affect our ability to obtain new tanker cars or negotiate new leases at a reasonable fee when our current leases expire;

·

Any delays in shipping our products by rail and corresponding decreases in our sales or production as a result of shipping delay and ethanol storage constraints;

·

Our units are subject to a number of transfer restrictions, no public market exists for our units, and we do not expect one to develop.

 

Our actual results or actions may differ materially from these forward-looking statements for many reasons, including the reasons described in Part I, Item 1A. “Risk Factors” of this Form 10-K.  We undertake no duty to update these forward-looking statements, even though our situation may change in the future.  We cannot guarantee future results, levels of activity, performance or achievements.  We caution you not to put undue reliance on any forward-looking statements, which speak only as of the date of this report.  You should read this report and the documents that we reference in this report and have filed as exhibits, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we currently expect.  We qualify all of our forward-looking statements with these cautionary statements. Unless otherwise stated, references in this report to particular years or quarters refer to our fiscal years ended October 31 and the associated quarters of those fiscal years.

 

3


 

INDUSTRY AND MARKET DATA

 

Much of the information in this report regarding the ethanol industry, including government regulation relevant to the industry, the market for our products and competition is from information published by the Renewable Fuels Association (“RFA”), a national trade association for the U.S. ethanol industry, as well as other publicly available information from governmental agencies or publications. Although we believe these sources are reliable, we have not independently verified the information.

 

AVAILABLE INFORMATION

 

Our principal executive offices are located at 15045 Highway 23 SE, Granite Falls, Minnesota 56241, and our telephone number is 320-564-3100. We make available free of charge on or through our Internet website, www.granitefallsenergy.com, all of our reports and all amendments to those reports as soon as reasonably practicable after such material is electronically filed with, or furnished to, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).  The Securities and Exchange Commission also maintains an Internet site (http://www.sec.gov) through which the public can access our reports.  We will provide electronic or paper copies of these documents free of charge upon request.

 

 

PART I

 

When we use the terms “Granite Falls Energy” or “GFE” or similar words in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, unless the context otherwise requires, we are referring to Granite Falls Energy, LLC and our operations at our ethanol production facility located in Granite Falls, Minnesota.  When we use the terms “Heron Lake BioEnergy”,  “Heron Lake”, or “HLBE” or similar words, unless the context otherwise requires, we are referring to Heron Lake BioEnergy, LLC and its wholly owned subsidiary, HLBE Pipeline Company, LLC, through which HLBE holds a controlling interest in Agrinatural Gas, LLC. When we use the terms the “Company”, “we”, “us”, “our” or similar words in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, unless the context otherwise requires, we are referring to Granite Falls Energy, LLC and our consolidated wholly- and majority owned subsidiaries. 

 

ITEM 1.BUSINESS

 

Overview

 

Granite Falls Energy, LLC is a Minnesota limited liability company formed on December 29, 2000  for the purpose of constructing, owning and operating a fuel-grade ethanol plant located in Granite Falls, Minnesota. 

 

In July 2013, we  acquired a controlling interest in Heron Lake BioEnergy, LLC (“Heron Lake BioEnergy” or “HLBE”), which owns an ethanol plant located near Heron Lake, Minnesota.  As of October 31, 2016, we control approximately 50.6% of HLBE’s outstanding membership units through our wholly owned subsidiary, Project Viking, L.L.C. As a result of our majority ownership, we have the right to appoint five (5) of the nine (9) governors to HLBE’s board of governors under its member control agreement.

 

Subsequent to our fiscal year end, we subscribed to purchase 1,500 capital units of Ring-neck Energy & Feed, LLC (“Ring-neck”) at a price of $5,000 per unit for a total of $7,500,000.  If Ring-neck accepts our subscription, our investment is sufficient to secure the Company the right to appoint one director to the board of directors of Ring-neck. Details regarding our subscription for investment in Ring-neck are provided below in the section below titled “Investments.”    

 

Our business consists primarily of the production and sale of ethanol and its co-products (wet, modified wet and dried distillers’ grains, corn oil and corn syrup) locally, and throughout the continental U.S. However, as markets allow, our products can be, and have been, sold in the export markets.   Our revenues from operations come from three primary sources: sales of fuel ethanol, sales of distillers’ grains and sales of corn oil at GFE’s ethanol plant and HLBE’s ethanol plant. 

 

4


 

Our Facilities

 

Our business consists primarily of producing ethanol and its related co-products, including wet, modified and dried distillers’ grains, as well as corn oil. Our ethanol production operations are carried out at our ethanol plant located in Granite Falls, Minnesota and at the ethanol plant operated by HLBE located near Heron Lake, Minnesota.

 

The GFE plant has an annual production capacity of approximately 62 million gallons of denatured ethanol, but is currently permitted to produce up to 70 million gallons of undenatured ethanol on a twelve month rolling sum basis. The HLBE plant has an approximate annual production capacity of approximately 64 million gallons of denatured ethanol, but is currently permitted to produce up to approximately 72.3 million gallons of undenatured fuel-grade ethanol on a twelve-month rolling sum basis.  We intend to continue working toward increasing production at both the GFE and HLBE plants to take advantage of the additional production allowed pursuant to our permits as long as we believe it is profitable to do so.

 

At the GFE plant, we constructed an additional grain bin, which expands the GFE plant’s grain storage by approximately 750,000 bushels. The grain storage expansion project commenced in August 2015 and was completed during the third fiscal quarter of 2016. 

 

At the HLBE plant, HLBE replaced its existing regenerative thermal oxidizer (“RTO”). HLBE completed installation of a new regenerative thermal oxidizer (“RTO”) and emissions testing during the third fiscal quarter of 2016. With installation complete, management expects the new RTO will improve emissions control and allow HLBE to continue to maintain regulatory compliance under our its air permit. In connection with HLBE’s RTO replacement project, HLBE has filed an application for a major amendment of its air emissions permit with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) to allow for the replacement under its current permit. For additional information regarding HLBE’s major amendment to its air permit, see the section below titled “Compliance with Environmental Laws and Other Regulatory Matters.”

 

GFE’s corn storage expansion project and HLBE’s RTO replacement project were funded from current earnings from operations.  In addition, we anticipate continuing to conduct routine maintenance and repair activities at the GFE and HLBE ethanol plants. We anticipate using cash we generate from our operations and, as needed, our credit facilities to finance these plant upgrade projects.

 

HLBE also owns a controlling 73% interest in Agrinatural Gas, LLC (“Agrinatural”), through its wholly owned subsidiary, HLBE Pipeline Company, LLC. The remaining 27% non-controlling interest is owned by Rural Energy Solutions, LLC (“RES”).  Agrinatural is a natural gas pipeline company that was formed to construct, own, and operate the natural gas pipeline that provides natural gas to HLBE’s ethanol production facility and other customers through a connection with the natural gas pipeline facilities of Northern Border Pipeline Company in Cottonwood County, Minnesota.  Agrinatural owns approximately 187 miles of natural gas pipeline and provides natural gas to HLBE’s ethanol plant and other commercial, agricultural and residential customers through a connection with the natural gas pipeline facilities of Northern Border Pipeline Company.  Agrinatural’s revenues are generated through natural gas distribution fees and sales.

   

Operating Segments

 

Accounting Standards Codification (“ASC”) 280, “Segment Reporting,” establishes the standards for reporting information about segments in financial statements. Operating segments are defined as components of an enterprise for which separate financial information is available that is evaluated regularly by the chief operating decision maker in deciding how to allocate resources and in assessing performance. Therefore, in applying the criteria set forth in ASC 280, the Company determined that based on the nature of the products and production process and the expected financial results, the Company’s operations at GFE’s ethanol plant and HLBE’s plant, including the production and sale of ethanol and its co-products, are aggregated into one reporting segment.

 

5


 

Additionally, we also realize relatively immaterial revenue from natural gas pipeline operations at Agrinatural, HLBE’s majority owned subsidiary.  Before and after accounting for intercompany eliminations, these revenues from Agrinatural’s represent less than less than 1% of our consolidated revenues and have little to no impact on the overall performance of the Company.  Therefore, our management does not separately review Agrinatural’s revenues, cost of sales or other operating performance information.  Rather, management reviews Agrinatural’s natural gas pipeline financial data on a consolidated basis with our ethanol production operating segment. Additionally, management believes that the presentation of separate operating performance information for Agrinatural’s natural gas pipeline operations would not provide meaningful information to a reader of the Company’s financial statements and would not achieve the basic principles and objectives of ASC 280.

 

We currently do not have or anticipate we will have any other lines of business or other significant sources of revenue other than the sale of ethanol and its co-products, which include distillers’ grains and non-edible corn oil.

 

Financial Information

 

Please refer to “ITEM 7 - MANAGEMENT’S DISCU.S.SION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS” for information about our revenue, profit and loss measurements, and total assets and liabilities and “ITEM 8 - FINANCIAL STATEMENTS AND SUPPLEMENTARY DATA” for our consolidated financial statements and supplementary data.

 

Principal Products

 

The principal products from ethanol production at GFE’s plant and HLBE’s plant, and from which we derive nearly all our revenue, are fuel-grade ethanol, distillers’ grains, and non-edible corn oil.  In addition, HLBE’s plant also has miscellaneous other revenue generated by sales of corn syrup, a by-product of the ethanol production process, and revenues from Agrinatural’s natural gas pipeline operations.  We did not introduce any new products or services as part of our ethanol production segment during our fiscal year ended October 31, 2016. 

 

The table below shows the approximate percentage of our total revenue which is attributable to each of our principal products for each of the last three fiscal years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

Fiscal Year 2016

    

Fiscal Year 2015

    

Fiscal Year 2014

Ethanol

 

79.3

%

 

78.0

%

 

80.1

%

Distillers' Grains

 

15.8

%

 

18.7

%

 

17.1

%

Corn Oil

 

4.1

%

 

2.7

%

 

2.3

%

Misc. Other Revenue*

 

0.8

%

 

0.6

%

 

0.5

%

 

*Includes incidental sales of corn syrup at HLBE’s plant and revenues from natural gas pipeline operations at Agrinatural, net of intercompany eliminations for distribution fees paid by HLBE to Agrinatural for natural gas transportation services.

 

Ethanol

 

Ethanol is a type of alcohol produced in the U.S. principally from corn.  Ethanol is ethyl alcohol, a fuel component made primarily from corn in the U.S. but can also be produced from various other grains. Ethanol is primarily used as:

 

·

an octane enhancer in fuels;

·

an oxygenated fuel additive that can reduce ozone and carbon monoxide vehicle emissions;

·

a non-petroleum-based gasoline substitute; and

·

as a renewable fuel to displace consumption of imported oil.

 

Ethanol produced in the U.S. is primarily used for blending with unleaded gasoline and other fuel products as an octane enhancer or fuel additive.  Ethanol is most commonly sold as E10 (10% ethanol and 90% gasoline), which is the blend of ethanol approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) for use in all American automobiles. Increasingly, ethanol is also available as E85, a higher percentage ethanol blend (85% ethanol and 15% gasoline) approved by the EPA for use in flexible fuel vehicles.

6


 

Distillers’ Grains

 

The principal co-product of the ethanol production process is distillers’ grains, a high protein and high-energy animal feed ingredient primarily marketed to the dairy and beef industries.  Dry mill ethanol processing creates three primary forms of distillers’ grains: wet distillers’ grains, modified wet distillers’ grains, and dried distillers’ grains with solubles.  Most of the distillers’ grains that we sell are in the form of dried distillers’ grains and modified/wet distillers’ grains.  Modified/wet distillers’ grains are processed corn mash that has been dried to approximately 50% moisture and has a shelf life of approximately 7 days. Modified/wet distillers’ grains are often sold to nearby markets.  Dried distillers’ grains with solubles are corn mash that has been dried to approximately 10% to 12% moisture.  It has an almost indefinite shelf life and may be sold and shipped to any market and fed to almost all types of livestock.

 

Corn Oil

 

We also extract non-edible crude corn oil during the thin stillage evaporation process immediately prior to production of distillers’ grains.  The corn oil that we produce is not food grade corn oil and therefore cannot be used for human consumption. Corn oil is used primarily as a biodiesel feedstock and as a supplement for animal feed.

 

Corn Syrup

 

Generally, GFE returns the de-oiled corn syrup into the production process adding it to the modified, or dry distillers’ grains during the drying process.  However, HLBE occasionally sells excess corn syrup in liquid syrup form to livestock feeders.  Excess syrup results from a plant upset, or when the amount of syrup produced during evaporation process exceeds our distillers’ grains’ dryer capacity. Corn syrup is used primarily as a feed additive to moisten dry feed stuffs such as hay.

 

Principal Product Markets

 

As described below in “Distribution of Principal Products”, we market and distribute all of GFE’s and HLBE’s ethanol, distillers’ grains, and corn oil through professional third party marketers.  Our marketers make all decisions with regard to where our products are marketed and we have little control over the marketing decisions they make. 

 

Our ethanol, distillers’ grains and corn oil are primarily sold in the domestic market; however, as markets allow, our products can be, and have been, sold in the export markets. We expect our ethanol and distillers’ grains marketers to explore all markets for our products, including export markets.  We believe that there is some potential for increased international sales of our products. Nevertheless, due to high transportation costs, and the fact that we are not located near a major international shipping port, we expect a majority of our products to continue to be marketed and sold domestically.

 

Ethanol Markets

 

The markets in which our ethanol is sold will depend primarily upon the efforts of Eco-Energy, Inc. (“Eco-Energy”), which buys and markets our ethanol. There are local, regional, national, and international markets for ethanol.  The principal markets for our ethanol are petroleum terminals in the continental U.S.  The principal purchasers of ethanol are generally wholesale gasoline distributors or blenders.

 

We believe that local markets will be limited and must typically be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.  Although local markets may be the easiest to service, they may be oversold because of the number of ethanol producers near our plants, which may depress the price of ethanol in those markets.

 

Typically, a regional market is one that is outside of the local market, yet within the neighboring states.  Some regional markets include large cities that are subject to anti-smog measures in either carbon monoxide or ozone non-attainment areas, or that have implemented oxygenated gasoline programs, such as Chicago, St. Louis, Denver, and Minneapolis.  We consider our primary regional market to be large cities within a 450-mile radius of our ethanol plants.  In the national ethanol market, the highest demand by volume is primarily in the southern U.S. and the east and west coast regions.

7


 

We expect a majority of our ethanol to continue to be marketed and sold domestically. However, as domestic production of ethanol continues to expand, we anticipate increased international sales. Ethanol export demand tends to fluctuate due to the relative strength of the U.S. dollar compared to foreign currencies and monetary and political policies in other nations. As a result, ethanol export demand is more unpredictable than domestic demand and tends to fluctuate throughout the year. During our 2016 fiscal year, exports of ethanol produced in the U.S. increased with Canada as the leading importer, followed by China, Brazil, India, South Korea, the Philippines, Peru and Mexico.  For instance, a strong U.S. Dollar is an example of a force that may negatively impact ethanol exports from the U.S.

 

We transport our ethanol primarily by rail.  In addition to rail, we service certain regional markets by truck from time to time.  We believe that regional pricing tends to follow national pricing less the freight difference.

 

Distillers’ Grains Markets

 

We sell distillers’ grains as animal feed for beef and dairy cattle, poultry, and hogs. Most of the distillers’ grains that we sell are in the form of dried distillers’ grains.  Currently, the U.S. ethanol industry exports a significant amount of dried distillers’ grains, which may increase more as worldwide acceptance grows. During our 2016 fiscal year, the largest importers of U.S. distillers’ grains were China, Mexico, South Korea, Vietnam and Canada.

 

Exports of distillers’ grains weakened towards the end of our fiscal year due to the strength of the U.S. dollar and weak economic conditions in China and Europe.  However, the largest impact on distillers’ grains exports resulted from the Chinese anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigation related to distillers’ grains imported into China from the U.S. China is the world’s largest buyer and importer of distillers’ grains, importing nearly all of its needs from U.S. exporters.  The investigation was commenced in response to claims made by Chinese producers that U.S. distillers’ grains were being sold at below normal prices, thereby damaging China’s domestic industry. On January 10, 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced its final ruling imposing anti-dumping duties and anti-subsidy tariffs, which were significantly higher than the anti-dumping duties and anti-subsidy tariffs imposed in its preliminary rulings in September 2016. The final Chinese anti-dumping duties will range from 42.2% to 53.7%, up from the 33.8% duty imposed in its September 2016 preliminary ruling, and the final anti-subsidy tariffs imposed will range from 11.2% to 12%, up from 10% to 10.7% in the preliminary ruling. We cannot estimate the exact effect these final duties will have on the overall domestic distillers’ grains market.  However, market prices for U.S. distillers’ grains began to drop in September 2016 in response to the penalties imposed in the Chinese September 2016 preliminary ruling. Consequently, we expect further declines in distillers’ grains demand from Chinese buyers as they switch to alternative lower cost protein sources. Reduced export demand from China will likely put additional downward pressure on the domestic distillers’ grains market resulting in lower U.S. prices unless alternative export markets develop or domestic demand increases.

 

We also sell modified wet distillers’ grains, which typically have a shelf life of a maximum of seven days.  This provides for a much smaller, more local market and makes the timing of its sale critical. Further, because of its moisture content, the modified wet distillers’ grains are heavier and more difficult to handle. The customer must be close enough to justify the additional handling and shipping costs. As a result, modified wet distillers’ grains are principally sold only to local feedlots and livestock operations.

 

Various factors affect the price of distillers’ grain, including, among others, the price of corn, soybean meal and other alternative feed products, the performance or value of distillers’ grains in a particular feed market, and the supply and demand within the market.  Like other commodities, the price of distillers’ grains can fluctuate significantly.

 

Corn Oil Markets

 

Our corn oil is primarily sold to diesel manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, feed lot and poultry markets. We generally transport our corn oil by truck to users located primarily in the upper Midwest.

 

8


 

Distribution of Principal Products

 

GFE’s ethanol plant is located near Granite Falls, Minnesota, in Chippewa County.  It is served by the TC&W Railway which provides connection to the Canadian Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroads. The completion of our rail loop during our 2012 fiscal year enables us to load unit trains.  Our site is in close proximity to major highways that connect to major population centers such as Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Detroit, Michigan.

 

HLBE’s ethanol plant is located near Heron Lake, Minnesota. It is served by the Union Pacific Railroad. HLBE’s site is also in close proximity to major highways that connect to major population centers such as Minneapolis, Minnesota; Chicago, Illinois; and Detroit, Michigan.

 

Ethanol Distribution

 

Eco-Energy is the ethanol marketer for both the GFE plant and HLBE plant. Pursuant to our marketing agreements, Eco-Energy purchases and markets the entire ethanol output of GFE’s and HLBE’s ethanol plants. and to arrange for the transportation of ethanol.  Under GFE’s ethanol marketing agreement, GFE is responsible for securing all of the rail cars necessary for the transport of ethanol by rail except for 43 rail cars leased to GFE by Eco-Energy. Under HLBE’s ethanol marketing agreement, Eco-Energy arranges for the transportation of HLBE’s ethanol. GFE and HLBE pay Eco-Energy a marketing fee per gallon of ethanol sold, as well as a fixed lease fee for rail cars leased from Eco-Energy.

 

Our agreements with Eco-Energy were set to expire on December 31, 2016.  However, during the third quarter of 2016, GFE and HLBE entered into amendments of their marketing agreements with Eco-Enegy extending the terms of the marketing agreements to December 31, 2019, with automatic renewals for additional three terms of three year periods unless terminated by either party by providing written notice to the other party at least 90 days prior to the end of the then current term. Additionally, the amendments provide for certain negotiated changes to the marketing fees payable to Eco-Energy by GFE and HLBE and  the timing of payments by Eco-Energy to GFE and HLBE for the ethanol Eco-Energy purchases from our plants. The changes to the marketing fee and timing of payments by Eco-Energy were negotiated based on prevailing market-rate conditions for comparable ethanol marketing services. 

 

Distillers’ Grains Distribution

 

Since February 1, 2011, RPMG, Inc. (“RPMG”) has served as the distillers’ grains marketer for our Granite Falls plant.  Pursuant to this agreement, RPMG markets all the distillers’ grains produced at our Granite Falls plant.  The contract commenced on February 1, 2011, with an initial term of one year, but continues in effect until terminated by either party.

 

Since November 1, 2013, Gavilon Ingredients, LLC (“Gavilon”) serves as the distillers’ grains marketer for HLBE.  Under this agreement, Gavilon purchases all of the distillers’ grains produced at our Heron Lake ethanol plant in exchange for a service fee. The contract commenced on November 1, 2013 with an initial term of six months, and will continue to remain in effect until terminated by either party at its unqualified option, by providing written notice of not less than 60 days to the other party.

 

Corn Oil Distribution

 

RPMG is also our corn oil marketer for both the GFE plant and the HLBE plant.  Currently, RPMG markets our corn oil, which is used primarily as a biodiesel feedstock and as a supplement for animal feed.  We pay RPMG a commission based on each pound of corn oil sold by RPMG under these marketing agreements.

 

HLBE independently markets and sells the excess corn syrup occasionally produced from the distillation process at the Heron Lake plant to local livestock feeders.

 

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Dependence on One or a Few Major Customers

 

As discussed above, we have exclusive ethanol marketing agreements with Eco-Energy. Additionally, we have agreements with RPMG and Gavilon to market all of the distillers’ grains produced at GFE’s plant and HLBE’s plant, respectively and with RPMG to market all of the corn oil produced at our plants. We rely on Eco-Energy, RPMG and Gavilon for the sale and distribution of all of our products; therefore, we are highly dependent on Eco-Energy, RPMG and Gavilon for the successful marketing of our products. Any loss of these companies as our marketing agents for our ethanol, distillers’ grains, or corn oil could have a negative impact on our revenues.

 

Seasonality of Ethanol Sales

 

We experience some seasonality of demand for our ethanol. Since ethanol is predominantly blended with conventional gasoline for use in automobiles, ethanol demand tends to shift in relation to gasoline demand.  As a result, we experience some seasonality of demand for ethanol in the summer months related to increased driving.  In addition, we experience some increased ethanol demand during holiday seasons related to increased gasoline demand.

 

Pricing of Corn and Ethanol

 

We expect that ethanol sales will represent our primary revenue source and corn will represent our primary component of cost of goods sold.  Therefore, changes in the price at which we can sell the ethanol we produce and the price at which we buy corn for our ethanol plants present significant operational risks inherent in our business. Trends in ethanol prices and corn prices are subject to a number of factors and are difficult to predict.

 

The price and availability of corn is subject to significant fluctuations depending upon a number of factors that affect commodity prices in general, including crop conditions, yields, domestic and global stocks, weather, federal policy and foreign trade. With the volatility of the weather and commodity markets, we cannot predict the future price of corn. Historically, ethanol prices have tended to correlate with corn prices, wholesale gasoline prices, with demand for and the price of ethanol increasing as supplies of petroleum decreased or appeared to be threatened, crude oil prices increased and wholesale gasoline prices increased. However, the prices of both ethanol and corn do not always follow historical trends. 

 

Generally, higher corn prices will produce lower profit margins and, therefore, negatively affect our financial performance.  If a period of high corn prices were to be sustained for some time, such pricing may reduce our ability to operate profitably because of the higher cost of operating our plants.  Because the market price of ethanol is not directly related to corn prices, we, like most ethanol producers, are not able to compensate for increases in the cost of corn through adjustments in our prices for our ethanol although we do see increases in the prices of our distillers’ grain during times of higher corn prices. Given that ethanol sales comprise a majority of our revenues, our inability to adjust our ethanol prices can result in a negative impact on our profitability during periods of high corn prices.

 

Ethanol prices stayed low during fiscal year 2016, partially in response to lower corn and oil prices, and the large supply of corn and oil.  High U.S. ethanol production levels that outpaced strong domestic consumption and export demand also impacted ethanol prices during fiscal year 2016. The increase in ethanol production resulted from the domestic producers responding to the consistently low corn prices during fiscal year 2016. Additionally, management believes ethanol demand and prices were negatively impacted throughout our 2016 fiscal year by the EPA’s draft proposal to reduce the amount of renewable fuels which are required to be used in the United States pursuant to the RFS. In the past, many fuel blenders used ethanol because of the difference in price between gasoline and ethanol. This voluntary use of ethanol in excess of the requirements in the RFS has decreased due to the fact that the spread between the price of ethanol and gasoline is smaller.

 

Sources and Availability of Raw Materials

 

The primary raw materials used in the production of ethanol at our plants are corn and natural gas.  Our plants also require significant and uninterrupted amounts of electricity and water. 

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Corn

 

Ethanol production requires substantial amounts of corn. The cost of corn represented approximately 73.7%, 73.6%, and 80.8% of our cost of sales for the years ended October 31, 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively. At GFE’s  current production rate of approximately 62 millon gallons of undenatured ethanol per year, the GFE plant requires approximately 21.5 million bushels of corn per year. The HLBE ethanol plant requires approximately 22.1 million bushels of corn per year to operate at is current production rate of approximately 64 million gallons of undenatured ethanol per year. 

 

The grain supply for our Granite Falls plant is obtained from Farmers Cooperative Elevator Company (“FCE”), our exclusive grain procurement agent. Our members are not obligated to deliver corn to our Granite Falls plant.  We will be forced to seek alternative corn suppliers if FCE cannot meet our needs. The term of our agreement with FCE expires in November 2017.

 

Typically, HLBE purchases its corn directly from grain elevators, farmers, and local dealers within approximately 80 miles of Heron Lake, Minnesota. HLBE generally purchases corn through spot cash, fixed-price forward, basis only, and futures only contracts. HLBE’s fixed-price forward contracts specify the amount of corn, the price and the time period over which the corn is to be delivered.  These forward contracts are at fixed prices indexed to Chicago Board of Trade (“CBOT”) prices. HLBE’s corn requirements can be contracted in advance under fixed-price forward contracts or options. The parameters of these contracts are based on the local supply and demand situation and the seasonality of the price. For delayed pricing contracts, producers will deliver corn to HLBE, but the pricing for that corn and the related payment will occur at a later date. HLBE may also purchase a portion of its corn on a spot basis. For its spot purchases, HLBE posts daily corn bids so that corn producers can sell to HLBE on a spot basis. 

 

In addition, both plants’ facilities have sufficient corn storage capacity, with the capability to store approximately 8 days of corn supply at HLBE and with the completion of our grain storage expansion project, approximately 18 days of corn supply at the GFE plant.    

 

We compete with ethanol producers in close proximity for the supplies of corn we will require to operate our plants.  There are 8 ethanol plants within an approximate 50 mile radius of HLBE’s plant and 5 ethanol plants within an approximate 50 mile radius of the GFE plant. The existence of other ethanol plants, particularly those in close proximity to our plants, increase the demand for corn and may result in higher costs for supplies of corn. We also compete with other users of corn, including ethanol producers regionally and nationally, producers of food and food ingredients for human consumption (such as high fructose corn syrup, starches, and sweeteners), producers of animal feed and industrial users.

 

Since corn is the primary raw material we use to produce our products, the availability and cost of corn can have a significant impact on the profitability of our operations. Corn prices were lower during our 2016 fiscal year as a result of several consecutive years of favorable corn crops which has increased the amount of corn available to us. As a result of these favorable corn crops, we have not had difficulty securing the corn we need to operate our ethanol plants at prices that have allowed us to operate profitably. If we experience a drought or other unfavorable weather condition during our 2017 fiscal year, the price we pay for corn and the availability of corn near our plants could be negatively impacted. If we experience a localized shortage of corn, we may be forced to purchase corn from producers who are farther away from our ethanol plants which can increase our transportation costs.

 

Utilities

 

Natural Gas

 

Natural gas is a significant input to our manufacturing process. The cost of natural gas represented approximately 5.1%, 6.7%, and 7.3% of our cost of sales for the years ended October 31, 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively.

 

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We do not anticipate any problems securing the natural gas we require to continue to operate our plants at capacity during our 2017 fiscal year or beyond.  At GFE’s plant, we pay Center Point Energy/Minnegasco a per unit fee to move the natural gas through the pipeline, and we have guaranteed to move a minimum of 1,500,000 mmBTU annually through December 31, 2025, which is the ending date of the agreement.  GFE also has an agreement with U.S. Energy Services, Inc.  On our behalf, U.S. Energy Services procures contracts with various natural gas vendors to supply the natural gas necessary to operate the GFE plant.  We determined that sourcing our natural gas from a variety of vendors is more cost-efficient than using an exclusive supplier.

 

HLBE has a facilities agreement with Northern Border Pipeline Company, which allows HLBE to access to an existing interstate natural gas pipeline located approximately 16 miles north from its plant.  HLBE has entered into a firm natural gas transportation agreement with its majority owned subsidiary, Agrinatural.  Under the terms of the firm natural gas transportation agreement, Agrinatural will provide natural gas to the HLBE plant with a specified price per MMBTU for an initial term of 10 years, with two automatic renewal options for five years periods.  On July 1, 2014, HLBE entered into an amendment of this agreement pursuant to which it agreed on an early exercise of one of the two automatic five-year term renewals thereby extending the term of the firm natural gas transportation agreement to October 31, 2021.  HLBE also has a base agreement for the sale and purchase of natural gas with Constellation NewEnergy—Gas Division, LLC (“Constellation”). HLBE buys all of its natural gas from Constellation and this agreement runs through March 31, 2019.

 

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 higher prices as a result of colder than average weather conditions or natural disasters, overall economic conditions and foreign and domestic governmental regulations and relations.  Significant disruptions in the supply of natural gas could impair our ability to manufacture ethanol and more significantly, dried distillers’ grains 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 condition.

 

Electricity

 

Our plants require a continuous supply of electricity.  We have agreements in place to supply electricity to our plants.  We do not anticipate any problems securing the electricity that we require to continue to operate our plants at capacity during our 2017 fiscal year or beyond.

 

Water

 

We do not anticipate any problems securing the water that we require to continue to operate our plants at capacity during our 2017 fiscal year or beyond. GFE obtains the water necessary to operate its from the Minnesota River with an adjustable gravity-flow intake system.

 

HLBE obtains its water pursuant to an industrial water supply agreement with the City of Heron Lake and Jackson County, Minnesota.

 

Risk Management and Hedging

 

The profitability of our operations is highly dependent on the impact of market fluctuations associated with commodity prices.  We use various derivative instruments as part of an overall strategy to manage market risk and to reduce the risk that our ethanol production will become unprofitable when market prices among our principal commodities and products do not correlate.  

 

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In order to mitigate our commodity and product price risks, we enter into hedging transactions, including forward corn, ethanol, distillers grain and natural gas contracts, in an attempt to partially offset the effects of price volatility for corn and ethanol.  However, we are not always presented with an opportunity to lock in a favorable margin and our plants’ profitability may be negatively impacted during periods of high grain prices. We also enter into over-the-counter and exchange-traded futures, swaps and option contracts for corn, ethanol and distillers’ grains, designed to limit our exposure to increases in the price of corn and manage ethanol price fluctuations.  Although we believe that our hedging strategies can reduce the risk of price fluctuations, the financial statement impact of these activities depends upon, among other things, the prices involved and our ability to physically receive or deliver the commodities involved.  Our hedging activities could cause net income to be volatile from quarter to quarter due to the timing of the change in value of the derivative instruments relative to the cost and use of the commodity being hedged.  As corn and ethanol prices move in reaction to market trends and information, our income statement will be affected depending on the impact such market movements have on the value of our derivative instruments.

 

Hedging arrangements expose us to the risk of financial loss in situations where the counterparty to the hedging contract defaults 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.  There are also situations where the hedging transactions themselves may result in losses, as when a position is purchased in a declining market or a position is sold in a rising market. Hedging losses may be offset by a decreased cash price for corn and natural gas and an increased cash price for ethanol and distillers’ grains.

 

We have established a risk management committee which assists the board and our risk management manager to, among other things, establish appropriate policies and strategies for hedging and enterprise risk. We continually monitor and manage our commodity risk exposure and our hedging transactions as part of our overall risk management policy.  As a result, we may vary the amount of hedging or other risk mitigation strategies we undertake, and we may choose not to engage in hedging transactions.  Our ability to hedge is always subject to our liquidity and available capital.

 

Process Improvement

 

We are continually working to develop new methods of operating the ethanol plants more efficiently.  We continue to conduct process improvement activities in order to realize these efficiency improvements.

 

Patents, Trademarks, Licenses, Franchises and Concessions

 

We do not currently hold any patents, trademarks, franchises, or concessions.  We were granted a license by ICM, Inc. (“ICM”) to use certain ethanol production technology necessary to operate our ethanol plants.  The cost of the license granted by ICM was included in the amount we paid to Fagen, Inc. to design and build our ethanol plants.

 

Competition

 

Ethanol Competition

 

Domestic Competition

 

We sell our ethanol in a highly competitive market.  Ethanol is a commodity product where competition in the industry is predominantly based on price. On a national scale, we are in direct competition with numerous ethanol producers. According to the RFA, as of December 1, 2016, there are approximately 213 biorefineries with a total nameplate capacity of approximately 15.8 billion gallons of ethanol per year, with an additional 237 million gallons of production under construction. However, the RFA estimates that approximately 3% of the ethanol production capacity in the U.S. was not operating as of December 1, 2016.

 

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The largest ethanol producers include: Abengoa Bioenergy Corp.; Archer Daniels Midland Company; Flint Hills Resources, LP; Green Plains, Inc.; POET, LLC and Valero Renewable Fuels, each of which are capable of producing significantly more ethanol than we produce. These producers and other large producers are, among other things, capable of producing a significantly greater amount of ethanol or have multiple ethanol plants that may help them achieve certain benefits that we could not achieve with our ethanol plants. This could put us at a competitive disadvantage to other ethanol producers.

 

The following table identifies the top five largest ethanol producers in the U.S. along with their production capacities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

Nameplate Capacity

 

Company

 

(mmgy)

 

Archer Daniels Midland

 

1,716

 

POET Biorefining

 

1,629

 

Green Plains, Inc.

 

1,461

 

Valero Renewable Fuels

 

1,400

 

Flint Hills Resources LP

 

820

 

Updated: December 1, 2016, Renewable Fuels Association

 

While management believes we are a lower cost producer of ethanol, some of these producers are, among other things, capable of producing a significantly greater amount of ethanol or own or manage more ethanol than we do which that may help them achieve certain benefits that we could not achieve with our ethanol plants.  Larger ethanol producers may have an advantage over us from economies of scale and stronger negotiating positions with purchasers. Large producers own multiple ethanol plants and may have flexibility to run certain facilities while shutting or slowing down production at their other facilities. This added flexibility may allow these producers to compete more effectively, especially during periods when operating margins are unfavorable in the ethanol industry. Some large producers own ethanol plants in geographically diverse areas of the U.S. and as result, may be able to more effectively spread the risk they encounter related to feedstock prices. Some of our competitors are owned subsidiaries of larger oil companies, such as Valero Renewable Fuels and Flint Hills Resources. Because their parent oil companies are required to blend a certain amount of ethanol each year, these competitors may be able to operate their ethanol production facilities at times when it is unprofitable for us to operate our ethanol plants.  Further, new products or methods of ethanol production developed by larger and better-financed competitors could provide them competitive advantages over us and harm our business.

 

Local Competition

 

A majority of the U.S. ethanol plants, and therefore, the greatest number of gallons of ethanol production capacity, are concentrated in the corn-producing states of Iowa, Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, South Dakota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas, and North Dakota.  According to the RFA, as of December 1, 2016, Minnesota is one of the top producers of ethanol in the U.S. with 21 ethanol plants producing an aggregate of approximately 1.5 billion gallons of ethanol per year. Therefore, we face increased regional and local competition because of the location of our ethanol plants.

 

Eco-Energy markets out ethanol primarily on a regional and national basis.  We compete with other ethanol producers both for markets in Minnesota and markets in other states. We believe that we are able to reach the best available markets through the use of our experienced marketer and by the rail delivery methods we use. We believe that we can compete favorably with other ethanol producers due to our proximity to ample grain, natural gas, electricity and water supplies at favorable prices.

 

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International Competition

 

In addition to intense competition with domestic producers of ethanol, we have faced increased competition from ethanol produced in foreign countries. Depending on feedstock prices, ethanol imported from foreign countries may be less expensive than domestically-produced ethanol.  However, foreign demand, transportation costs and infrastructure constraints may temper the market impact on the U.S. Ethanol imports have been lower in recent years and ethanol exports have been higher. However, if demand for imported ethanol were to increase again, demand for domestic ethanol may be reduced, which could lead to lower domestic prices and lower operating margins. Large international companies with much greater resources than ours have developed, or are developing, increased foreign ethanol production capacities. Many international suppliers produce ethanol primarily from inputs other than corn, such as sugar cane, and have cost structures that may be substantially lower than U.S. based ethanol producers including us. Many of these international suppliers are companies with much greater resources than us with greater production capacities.

 

Alternative Fuels and Other Fuel Additives Competition

 

New products or methods of ethanol production developed by larger and better-financed competitors could provide them competitive advantages over us and harm our business. We anticipate increased competition from renewable fuels that do not use corn as the feedstock. Many of the current ethanol production incentives are designed to encourage the production of renewable fuels using raw materials other than corn. One type of ethanol production feedstock that is being explored is cellulose. Cellulose is found in wood chips, corn stalks and rice straw, amongst other common plants. Several companies and researchers have commenced pilot projects to study the feasibility of commercially producing cellulosic ethanol. Additionally, a few companies have begun construction or completed commercial scale cellulosic ethanol plants. If this technology can be profitably employed on a commercial scale, it could potentially lead to ethanol that is less expensive to produce than corn based ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol may also capture more government subsidies and assistance than corn based ethanol. This could decrease demand for our product or result in competitive disadvantages for our ethanol production process.

 

In addition to competing with ethanol producers, we also compete with producers of other gasoline oxygenates.  Many gasoline oxygenates are produced by other companies, including oil companies.  The major oil companies have significantly greater resources than we have to develop alternative products and to influence legislation and public perception of ethanol. Historically, as a gasoline oxygenate, ethanol primarily competed with two gasoline oxygenates, both of which are ether-based: MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) and ETBE (ethyl tertiary butyl ether).  While ethanol has displaced these two gasoline oxygenates, the development of ethers intended for use as oxygenates is continuing and we will compete with producers of any future ethers used as oxygenates.

 

A number of automotive, industrial and power generation manufacturers are developing alternative fuels and clean power systems using fuel cells, plug-in hybrids, electric cars or clean burning gaseous fuels. Electric car technology has recently grown in popularity, especially in urban areas. While there are currently a limited number of vehicle recharging stations, there has been increased focus on developing these recharging stations to make electric car technology more feasible and widely available in the future. Additional competition from these other sources of alternative energy, particularly in the automobile market, could reduce the demand for ethanol, which would negatively impact our profitability.

 

Distillers’ Grains Competition

 

The amount of distillers’ grains produced annually in North America has increased significantly as the number of ethanol plants increased.  We compete with other producers of distillers’ grains products both locally and nationally, with more intense competition for sales of distillers’ grains among ethanol producers in close proximity to our ethanol plants.  These competitors may be more likely to sell to the same markets that we target for our distillers’ grains.

 

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Distillers’ grains are primarily used as an animal feed, competing with other feed formulations using corn and soybean meal. As a result, we believe that distillers’ grains prices are positively impacted by increases in corn and soybean prices. In recent years the U.S. ethanol industry has increased exports of distillers’ grains which management believes has positively impacted demand and prices for distillers’ grains in the U.S. However, with the recent imposition of Chinese import duties on U.S. distillers’ grains, distillers’ grains exports have been negatively impacted, increasing the domestic supply of distillers’ grains. Increased domestic supply has had a corresponding negative impact on distillers’ grains prices and has decreased the price of distillers’ grains as compared to a comparable volume of corn. In the event these distillers’ grains exports continue to decrease, it could result in increased competition among ethanol producers for sales of distillers’ grains and could negatively impact distillers’ grains prices in the U.S.

 

Corn Oil Competition

 

We compete with many ethanol producers for the sale of corn oil. Many ethanol producers have installed the equipment necessary to separate corn oil from the distillers’ grains they produce which has increased competition for corn oil sales and has resulted in lower market corn oil prices.

 

Government Ethanol Supports

 

The ethanol industry is dependent on several economic incentives to produce ethanol, the most significant of which is the federal Renewable Fuels Standard (the “RFS”"). The RFS is a national program that does not require that any renewable fuels be used in any particular area or state, allowing refiners to use renewable fuel blends in those areas where it is most cost-effective. The RFS has been, and we expect will continue to be, a significant factor impacting ethanol usage.

 

Under the RFS, the EPA is supposed to pass an annual rule that establishes the number of gallons of different types of renewable fuels that must be used in the United States by refineries, blenders, distributors and importers which is called the renewable volume obligations (“RVOs”). The EPA has the authority to waive the mandates in whole or in part if one of two conditions is met: 1) there is inadequate domestic renewable fuel supply, or 2) implementation of the mandate requirement severely harms the economy or environment of a state, region or the United States.

 

The RFS statutory RVO for corn-based ethanol is 14.4 billion gallons in 2014, 15 billion gallons in 2015 and 15 billion gallons in 2016 and each year thereafter through 2022. However, in the EPA’s November 2015 final rule, the RFS RVOs for corn-based ethanol for 2014, 2015 and 2016 were reduced from the statutorily mandated levels.  On May 18, 2016, the EPA released a proposed rule to set the RVO for 2017. The EPA proposed to set the total RVO at 18.8 billion gallons of which 14.8 billion gallons could be met by corn-based ethanol, a moderate increase over the 2016 volume but still below the statutory level. On November 23, 2016, the EPA announced the final rule for 2017 RVOs, which is set at 15.0 billion gallons for corn-based ethanol.  This rule is set at 100% of the original conventional biofuel requirement of 15.0 billion gallons, and is considered a favorable outcome by the industry.

 

The following chart illustrates the potential United States ethanol demand based on the schedule of minimum usage established by the RFS program through the year 2022 (in billions of gallons):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maximum Amount of Corn-based

 

 

 

 

Total Renewable Fuel

 

Cellulosic Ethanol

 

Advanced

 

 Ethanol That Can Be Used to 

Year

    

RVO Source

    

RVO

    

Minimum Requirement

    

Biofuel

    

Satisfy Total Renewable Fuel RVO

2016

 

RFS Statute

 

22.25

 

4.25

 

7.25

 

15.00

 

 

EPA Final Rule

 

18.11

 

0.23

 

3.61

 

14.50

2017

 

RFS Statute

 

24.00

 

5.5

 

9.00

 

15.00

 

 

EPA Final Rule

 

19.28

 

0.31

 

4.28

 

15.00

2018

 

RFS Statute

 

26.00

 

7.00

 

11.00

 

15.00

2019

 

RFS Statute

 

28.00

 

8.50

 

13.00

 

15.00

2020

 

RFS Statute

 

30.00

 

10.50

 

15.00

 

15.00

2021

 

RFS Statute

 

33.00

 

13.50

 

18.00

 

15.00

2022

 

RFS Statute

 

36.00

 

16.00

 

21.00

 

15.00

 

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Current ethanol production capacity exceeds the EPA's 2016 and 2017 RVO standard which can be satisfied by corn based ethanol.  Beyond the federal mandates, there are limited markets for ethanol. Further, opponents of ethanol such as large oil companies will likely continue their efforts to repeal or reduce the RFS through lawsuits or lobbying of Congress. If such efforts are successful in further reducing or repealing the blending requirements of the RFS, a significant decrease in ethanol demand may result and could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition, unless additional demand from exports or discretionary or E85 blending develops.

 

Many in the ethanol industry believe that it will be difficult to meet the RFS RVOs in future years without an increase in the percentage of ethanol that can be blended with gasoline for use in standard (non-flex fuel) vehicles. Most ethanol that is used in the United States is sold in a blend called E10. E10 is a blend of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline. E10 is approved for use in all standard vehicles. Estimates indicate that gasoline demand in the United States is approximately 140 billion gallons per year. Assuming that all gasoline in the United States is blended at a rate of 10% ethanol and 90% gasoline, the maximum demand for ethanol is 14.0 billion gallons per year.  This is commonly referred to as the “blend wall,” which represents a theoretical limit where more ethanol cannot be blended into the national gasoline pool. This is a theoretical limit because it is believed that it would not be possible to blend ethanol into every gallon of gasoline that is being used in the United States and it discounts the possibility of additional ethanol used in higher percentage blends such as E15 and E85. These higher percentage blends may lead to additional ethanol demand if they become more widely available and accepted by the market.

 

There is growing availability of E85 for use in flexible fuel vehicles, however it is limited due to lacking infrastructure. In addition, the industry has been working to introduce E15 to the retail market since the EPA approved its use vehicles model year 2001 and newer. However, wide spread adoption of E15 is hampered by regulatory and infrastructure hurdles in many states, as well as consumer acceptance. Additionally, sales of E15 may be limited because: (i) it is not approved for use in all vehicles; (ii) the EPA requires a label that management believes may discourage consumers from using E15; and (iii) retailers may choose not to sell E15 due to concerns regarding liability. In addition, different gasoline blendstocks may be required at certain times of the year in order to use E15 due to federal regulations related to fuel evaporative emissions. This may prevent E15 from being used during certain times of the year in various states. As a result, management believes that E15 may not have an immediate impact on ethanol demand in the U.S.

 

Compliance with Environmental Laws and Other Regulatory Matters

 

Our business subjects us to various federal, state, and local environmental laws and regulations, including: those relating to discharges into the air, water, and ground; the generation, storage, handling, use, transportation, and disposal of hazardous materials; and the health and safety of our employees. These laws and regulations require us to obtain and comply with numerous permits to construct and operate our ethanol plants, including water, air, and other environmental permits.  The costs associated with obtaining these permits and meeting the conditions of these permits have increased our costs of construction and production.  Additionally, compliance with environmental laws and permit conditions in the future could require expensive pollution control equipment or operational changes to limit actual or potential impacts to the environment, as well as significant management time and expense.  A violation of these laws, regulations or permit conditions can result in substantial fines, natural resource damage, criminal sanctions, permit revocations, and/or plant shutdown, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our operations. Although violations and environmental non-compliance still remain a possibility following our conversion from coal to natural gas combustion, the exposure to the company has been greatly reduced.

 

In connection with HLBE’s RTO replacement project, HLBE filed an application for a major amendment of its air emissions permit with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (“MPCA”) to allow for the replacement under its current permit. However, HLBE entered into a compliance agreement with the MPCA on April 27, 2016 to allow HLBE to proceed with replacement of its RTO prior to receiving approval of its major amendment application due to backlog in the permit approval process. The compliance agreement requires that HLBE operate the new RTO in compliance with its existing air emissions permit and complete certain green initiatives at the facility, including constructing a butterfly and bee garden at HLBE plant site, installing LED lighting throughout HLBE facility, and installing variable frequency drives on its evaporator pumps.  As of the end of our 2016 fiscal year, HLBE had completed construction of the butterfly and bee garden, installation of LED lighting throughout the facility and installation of the variable frequency drives.

 

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In the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016,  we incurred costs and expenses of approximately $117,000 and $337,000 complying with environmental laws, including the cost of pursuing permit amendments, for our Granite Falls plant and Heron Lake plants, respectively.  Although we have been successful in obtaining all of the permits currently required, any retroactive change in environmental regulations, either at the federal or state level, could require us to obtain additional or new permits or spend considerable resources in complying with such regulations.

 

The RFS was revised by the EPA in July 2010 to adopt rules to determine which renewable fuels provided sufficient reductions in greenhouse gases, compared to conventional gasoline, to qualify under the RFS program. This approach establishes a tiered approach, where regular renewable fuels are required to accomplish a 20% greenhouse gas reduction compared to gasoline, advanced biofuels and biomass-based biodiesel must accomplish a 50% reduction in greenhouse gases, and cellulosic biofuels must accomplish a 60% reduction in greenhouse gases. Any fuels that fail to meet this standard cannot be used by fuel blenders to satisfy their obligations under the RFS program. As adopted by the EPA, the revised regulations provide that corn-based ethanol plants utilizing corn starch that commenced construction prior to December 2007 were grandfathered in and do meet the definition of a renewable fuel under the RFS program.  However, the grandfathered production was limited to such plants then-permitted production capacity. As a result, the GFE and HLBE plants were grandfathered at their then permitted capacity and allowed to generate Renewable Identification Numbers (“RINs”) for compliance with the RFS.

 

However, to generate RINs that qualify for compliance with the RFS program for any increased production above the grandfathered gallons, the GFE and HLBE plants must 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 mandate. In September 2014, the EPA announced a new expedited petition process, referred to as the “efficient producer” petition, for existing corn starch and grain sorghum ethanol producers to gain pathway approval and qualify to generate RINs for production volumes above those grandfathered under the RFS. On January 13, 2015 and March 30, 2015, HLBE and GFE, respectively, submitted efficient producer petitions to the EPA.  The EPA awarded efficient producer pathway approval to HLBE and GFE on March 12, 2015 and May 13, 2015, respectively.  In the approval determinations, the EPA’s analysis indicated that HLBE achieved at least a 20.1% reduction and GFE achieved a 26.0% reduction in GHG emissions for their non-grandfathered volumes compared to the baseline lifecycle GHG emissions.

 

Pursuant to the award approval, HLBE and GFE are only authorized to generate RINs for each plant’s non-grandfathered volumes if each plant can demonstrate that all ethanol produced at the plant during an averaging period (defined as the prior 365 days or the number of days since the date EPA efficient producer pathway approval) meets the 20% GHG reduction requirement. To make these demonstrations, HLBE and GFE must develop compliance plans and keep certain records as specified in the approvals. Additionally, the EPA approvals require that HLBE and GFE register with the EPA as a renewable fuel producer for the non-grandfathered volumes.

 

As of the date of this report, the engineering study, compliance plan, and registration requirements for each plant have been submitted and approval. Although we believe GFE and HLBE will be able to maintain continuous compliance with the 20% reduction in GHG emissions requirement, there is no guarantee that we will do so.  If GFE or HLBE do not maintain continuous compliance with the 20% reduction in GHG emissions requirement, we will not be able issue RINs for the non-grandfathered volumes of ethanol produced at the plants.  As a result, we may be forced to rely on exports sales for these non-grandfathered volumes ethanol, which could adversely affect our operating margins, which, in turn could adversely affect our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.

 

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 federal appellate court reversed the federal district court finding the LCFS constitutional and remanding the case back to federal district court to determine whether the LCFS imposes a burden on interstate commerce that is excessive in light of the local benefits. On June 30, 2014, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of the federal appellate court ruling and CARB recently re-adopted the LCFS with some slight modifications. The LCFS could have a negative impact on demand for corn-based ethanol and result in decreased ethanol prices affecting our ability to operate profitably. 

 

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In February 2013, an anti-dumping tariff was imposed as a regulation by the Council of the European Union ethanol produced in the United States and exported to Europe. The Company does not export any ethanol to Europe at this time. However, continuation of this duty or imposition of tariffs by other countries or regions could reduce United States exports to Europe, and possibly other export markets. A reduction of exports to Europe could have an adverse effect on domestic ethanol prices, as the available supply of ethanol for the domestic market would increase.

 

Employees

 

We compete with ethanol producers in close proximity for the personnel we will require to operate our plants.  The existence and development of other ethanol plants will increase competition for qualified managers, engineers, operators and other personnel.  We also compete for personnel with businesses other than ethanol producers and with businesses located within the Granite Falls and Heron Lake, Minnesota communities.

 

As of the date of this report, we have 83 full time employees at our two consolidated ethanol plants, of which 42 are employed at the GFE plant and 41 are employed at the HLBE plant.  Of our total employees, 15 are involved primarily in management and administration with  8 employees at the GFE plant and 7 at the HLBE plant. The remaining employees are involved primarily in plant operations.  We do not currently anticipate any significant change in the number of employees at our plants.

 

On July 31, 2013, GFE entered into a management services agreement with HLBE.  Pursuant to the management services agreement, GFE provides its chief executive officer, chief financial officer, and commodity risk manager to act in those positions as part-time officers and managers of HLBE. Each person providing management services to HLBE under the management services agreement is subject to oversight by the HLBE board of governors.  However, GFE’s chief executive officer is solely responsible for hiring and firing persons providing management services under the management services agreement.

 

The initial term of the Management Services Agreement expired on July 30, 2016.  However, the management services agreement automatically renewed for an additional one-year term and will continue to automatically renew for successive one-year terms until either party gives the other party written notice of termination prior to expiration of the then current term. The management services agreement may also be terminated by either party for cause under certain circumstances.

 

GFE is responsible for and agreed to directly pay salary, wages, and/or benefits to the persons providing management services under the management services agreement.  Under the terms of the management services agreement, HLBE pays GFE 50% of the total salary, bonuses and other expenses and costs (including all benefits and tax contributions) incurred by GFE for the three management positions, paid on an estimated monthly basis with a “true-up” following the close of our fiscal year.

 

Financial Information about Geographic Areas

 

All of our operations are domiciled in the U.S. All of the products sold to our customers for fiscal years 2016, 2015, and 2014 were produced in the U.S. and all of our long-lived assets are domiciled in the U.S.  We have engaged third-party professional marketers who decide where our products are marketed and we have no control over the marketing decisions made by our third-party professional marketers. These third-party marketers may decide to sell our products in countries other than the U.S.  However, we anticipate that our products will primarily be sold in the U.S.    

 

Investments

 

Subsequent to our fiscal year end, on November 1, 2016, we subscribed to purchase 1,500 capital units of Ring-neck Energy & Feed, LLC (“Ring-neck”) at a price of $5,000 per unit for a total of $7,500,000.  We paid a down payment of $750,000 in connection with our subscription, and signed a promissory note for $6,750,000 for the remaining balance of the subscription. If Ring-neck accepts our subscription, we will be required to pay Ring-neck the entire amount due under the promissory note within 20 days of receiving notice from Ring-neck that it is due. If we fail to pay the entire amount due, we will be charged 12% interest per year, and Ring-neck may seek legal action to force us to pay. If Ring-neck does not meet certain conditions of its offering or rejects our subscription, we expect that our promissory note will be cancelled and our down payment will be refunded to us.

 

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Ring-neck is a South Dakota limited liability company that intends to build an 80 million gallon per year ethanol manufacturing plant in outside of Onida, South Dakota in Sully County. If Ring-neck accepts our subscription, our investment is sufficient to secure the Company the right to appoint one director to the board of directors of Ring-neck. The units we expect to acquire in Ring-neck will be subject to restrictions on transfer, therefore, this should not be considered a liquid investment.  If our subscription is accepted, it may take a significant amount of time before we realize a return on our investment, if we realize a return on the investment at all.

 

Ring-neck is offering the sale of its units pursuant to a private placement memorandum. Additionally, because Ring-neck is not conducting a federally-registered offering, we do not expect that information about Ring-neck will be available via the SEC’s EDGAR filing system. Therefore, it may be difficult for our investors to obtain information about Ring-neck.

 

In connection with our subscription, we entered into a credit facility with Fagen Energy, LLC (“Fagen Energy”), which allows the Company to borrow up to $7.5 million of variable-rate, amortizing non-recourse debt using the Ring-neck investment as collateral. Fagen Energy is an affiliate of Fagen, Inc., the design-builder for the our plants and a member of GFE.  Details of the Fagen Energy credit facility are provided below in the section below entitled “PART II - ITEM 7. MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS - Credit Arrangments”.

 

 

ITEM 1A.RISK FACTORS

 

You should carefully read and consider the risks and uncertainties below and the other information contained in this report.  The risks and uncertainties described below are not the only ones we may face.  The following risks, together with additional risks and uncertainties not currently known to us or that we currently deem immaterial could impair our financial condition and results of operation.  If any of the following risks actually occur, our results of operations, cash flows and the value of our units could be negatively impacted.

 

Risks Relating to Our Business

 

Our business is not significantly diversified, and we may not be able to adapt to changing market conditions or endure any decline in the ethanol industry.

 

Our success depends on our ability to efficiently produce and sell ethanol, and, to a lesser extent, distillers’ grains and corn oil. We do not have any other lines of business or other sources of revenue if we are unable to operate our ethanol plants and manufacture ethanol and its related co-products.  Further, all of our investments are in companies involved in the ethanol industry. Our majority owned subsidiary, HLBE, operates a natural gas pipeline through Agrinatural, its majority owned subsidiary.  Before and after accounting for intercompany eliminations, revenues from Agrinatural’s represent less than less than 1% of our consolidated revenues. Therefore, Agrinatural does not produce significant revenue to rely upon if we are unable to produce and sell ethanol and its co-products, or if the market for those products decline. As result, if economic or political factors adversely affect the market for ethanol and its co-products, we have no other line of business to fall back on.  Our lack of diversification means that we may not be able to adapt to changing market conditions, changes in regulation, increased competition or any significant decline in the ethanol industry.  Our business would also be significantly harmed if the ethanol plants could not operate at full capacity for any extended period of time.

 

Our profitability depends upon purchasing corn at lower prices and selling ethanol at higher prices and because the difference between ethanol and corn prices can vary significantly, our financial results may also fluctuate significantly.

 

The results of our ethanol production business are highly impacted by commodity prices. The substantial majority of our revenues are derived from the sale of ethanol. Our results of operations and financial condition are significantly affected by the cost and supply of corn and natural gas as our gross profit relating to the sale of ethanol is principally dependent on the difference between the price we receive for the ethanol we produce and the cost of corn and natural gas that we must purchase. Changes in the price and supply of corn and natural gas are subject to and determined by market forces over which we have no control, such as weather, domestic and global demand, shortages, export prices, and various governmental policies in the U.S. and around the world.

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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 seek to minimize the risks from fluctuations in the prices of corn and natural gas through the use of hedging instruments.  However, these hedging transactions also involve risks to our business.  If we were to experience relatively higher corn and natural gas costs compared to the selling prices of our products for an extended period of time, the value of our units may be reduced.

 

Sustained negative operating margins may require some ethanol producers to temporarily limit or cease production.

 

Our ability and the ability of other ethanol producers to operate profitably is largely determined by the spread between the price paid for corn and the price received for ethanol.  If this spread is narrow or is negative for a sustained period, some ethanol producers may elect to temporarily limit or cease production until their possibility for profitability returns.  Although we currently have no plans to limit or cease ethanol production, we may be required to do so if we experience a period of sustained negative operating margins.  In such an event, we would still incur certain fixed costs, which would impact our financial performance.

 

Declining oil prices and resultant lower gas prices may materially affect ethanol pricing and demand.

 

Ethanol has historically traded at a discount to gasoline.  When ethanol trades at a discount to gasoline it encourages discretionary blending, thereby increasing the demand for ethanol beyond required blending rates. Conversely, when ethanol trades at a premium to gasoline, there is a disincentive for discretionary blending and ethanol demand is negatively impacted.  With the recent decline in oil and gas prices, ethanol is currently trading at an approximately equivalent price to gasoline resulting in a disincentive for discretionary blending of ethanol beyond the required blend rate.  Consequently, ethanol demand has reduced and ethanol prices have been negatively impacted. If the current trend continues for a significant period of time, it could hurt our ability to manage our profit margin, which could result in a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

If the supply of ethanol exceeds the demand for ethanol, the price we receive for our ethanol and distillers’ grains may decrease.

 

Domestic ethanol production capacity has increased substantially over the past decade.  However, demand for ethanol may not increase as quickly as expected or to a level that exceeds supply, or at all. Excess ethanol production capacity may result from decreases in the demand for ethanol or increased domestic production or imported supply. There are many factors affecting demand for ethanol, including regulatory developments and reduced gasoline consumption as a result of increased prices for gasoline or crude oil. Higher gasoline prices could cause businesses and consumers to reduce driving or acquire vehicles with more favorable gasoline mileage, or higher prices could spur technological advances, such as the commercialization of engines utilizing hydrogen fuel-cells, which could supplant gasoline-powered engines. There are a number of governmental initiatives designed to reduce gasoline consumption, including tax credits for hybrid vehicles and consumer education programs.

 

Because ethanol production produces distillers’ grains as a co-product, increased ethanol production will also lead to increased production of distillers’ grains. An increase in the supply of distillers’ grains, without corresponding increases in demand, could lead to lower prices or an inability to sell our distillers’ grains production. 

 

We anticipate the price of ethanol will continue to be volatile in fiscal year 2017 as a result of the net effect of changes in the price of gasoline and corn and increased ethanol supply offset by increased ethanol demand. The U.S. benefited from additional exports of ethanol during our 2016 fiscal year.  Management believes these additional exports of ethanol were due to lower market ethanol prices in the United States and increased global demand for ethanol. However, these ethanol exports may not continue to occur during our 2017 fiscal year. If we experience excess ethanol supply, either due to increased ethanol production, lower worldwide demand or lower gasoline demand, it could negatively impact the price of ethanol and distillers’ grains which could hurt our ability to profitably operate our ethanol plants.

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The price of distillers’ grains is affected by the price of other commodity products, such as soybeans, and decreases in the price of these commodities could decrease the price of distillers’ grains.

 

Distillers’ grains compete with other protein-based animal feed products. The price of distillers’ grains may decrease when the price of competing feed products decrease. The prices of competing animal feed products are based in part on the prices of the commodities from which they 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. The price of distillers’ grains is not tied to production costs. However, decreases in the price of distillers’ grains would result in less revenue from the sale of distillers’ grains and could result in lower profit margins.

 

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.

 

The prices of ethanol and distillers’ grains may decline as a result of trade barriers imposed by foreign countries with respect to ethanol and distillers’ grains originating in the U.S. and negatively affect our profitability.

 

An increasing amount of our industry's products are being exported.  The United States ethanol industry was supported during our 2016 fiscal year with exports of ethanol which increased demand for our ethanol. Management believes these additional exports of ethanol were due to lower market ethanol prices in the United States and increased global demand for ethanol.  However, these ethanol exports may not continue. If producers and exporters of ethanol and distillers' grains are subjected to trade barriers when selling products to foreign customers, there may be a reduction in the price of these products in the United States.  Declines in the price we receive for our products will lead to decreased revenues and may result in our inability to operate our ethanol plants profitably.

 

In 2013, the European Union imposed a tariff on ethanol which is produced in the United States and exported to Europe as a result of its anti-dumping investigation. While U.S. producers continue to experience some ethanol exports to Europe, as a result of this tariff, if ethanol prices increase, these exports to the European Union may cease. Further, ethanol exports could potentially be higher without the European Union tariff. In addition, other importers of United States ethanol could reduce their imports which could negatively impact ethanol prices in the United States and could result in an imbalance between ethanol supply and ethanol demand. Any decrease in ethanol prices or demand may negatively impact our ability to profitably operate our ethanol plants.

 

China, the largest buyer of distillers' grains in the world, announced in June 2014 that it would stop issuing import permits for United States distillers' grains due to the presence of a genetically modified trait was not approved by China for import. As a result, Chinese imports of distillers' grains for the second half of 2014 were halted and a drop in distillers' grains prices followed. Following the resolution of these issues in December 2014, a new registration requirement for Chinese importers of distillers’ grains began on September 1, 2015. If United States producers can not satisfy import requirements imposed by countries importing distillers' grains, export demand could be significantly reduced as a result. If export demand of distillers' grains is significantly reduced as a result, the price of distillers' grains in the United States would likely continue to decline which would have a negative effect on our revenue and could impact our ability to profitably operate which could in turn reduce the value of our units.

 

Distillers’ grains demand and prices may be negatively impacted by the Chinese anti-dumping duty.

 

Historically, China was the world's largest buyer of distillers’ grains produced in the United States. In January 2016, China’s Ministry of Commerce initiated an anti-dumping investigation into U.S. produced dried distillers’ grains exported to China. On September 23, 2016, the Chinese instituted a preliminary anti-dumping duty of 33.8% in response to this investigation and an anti-subsidy tariff on September 30, 2016 of approximately 10%. Further, on January 10, 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced its final penalties, which were significantly higher than those imposed int preliminary ruling, with the final anti-dumping duties rang from 42.2% to 53.7%, and the final anti-subsidy tariff will range from 11.2% to 12%.

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We cannot estimate the exact effect these final duties will have on the overall domestic distillers’ grains market.  However, market prices for U.S. distillers’ grains began to drop in September 2016 in response to the penalties imposed in the Chinese September 2016 preliminary ruling. Consequently, we expect further declines in distillers’ grains demand from Chinese buyers as they switch to alternative lower cost protein sources. While we expect China to continue to import some distillers’ grains, we do not anticipate that the imports will be at the same level as previous years which could continue to negatively impact market distillers’ grains demand and prices. This potential reduction in demand along with lower domestic corn prices could negatively impact our ability to profitably operate our ethanol plants.

 

We face intense competition that may result in reductions in the price we receive for our ethanol, increases in the prices we pay for our corn, or lower gross profits.

 

Competition in the ethanol industry is intense. We face formidable competition in every aspect of our business from both larger and smaller producers of ethanol and distillers’ grains. Some larger producers of ethanol, such as Archer Daniels Midland Company, Cargill, Inc., Valero Energy Corporation, have substantially greater financial, operational, procurement, marketing, distribution and technical resources than we have.  We may not be able to compete with these larger entities. These larger ethanol producers may be able to affect the ethanol market in ways that are not beneficial to us which could affect our financial performance. 

 

Additionally, smaller competitors, such as farmer-owned cooperatives and independent companies owned by farmers and investors, have business advantages, such as the ability to more favorably procure corn by operating smaller plants that may not affect the local price of corn as much as larger-scale plants like ours or requiring their farmer-owners to sell them corn as a requirement of ownership. Because Minnesota is one of the top producers of ethanol in the U.S., we face increased competition because of the location of our ethanol plants.

 

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 few years, several large oil companies have begun to penetrate the ethanol production market. If these companies increase their ethanol plant ownership or other oil companies seek to engage in direct ethanol production, such as Valero Renewable Fuels and Flint Hills Resources which are subsidiaries of larger oil companies, there may be a decrease in the demand for ethanol from smaller independent ethanol producers like us which could result in an adverse effect on our operations, cash flows and financial condition.

 

We also face increasing competition from international ethanol suppliers. Most international ethanol producers have cost structures that can be substantially lower than ours and therefore can sell their ethanol for substantially less than we can. While ethanol imported to the U.S. was subject to an ad valorem tax and a per gallon surcharge that helped mitigate the effects of international competition for U.S. ethanol producers, the tax and per gallon surcharge expired on December 31, 2011. Because the tax and surcharge on imported ethanol was not extended beyond December 31, 2011, we are facing increased competition from imported ethanol and foreign producers of ethanol. In addition, ethanol imports from certain countries are exempted from these tariffs under the Caribbean Basin Initiative to spur economic development in Central America and the Caribbean.

 

Competing ethanol producers may introduce competitive pricing pressures that may adversely affect our sales levels and margins or our ability to procure corn at favorable prices. As a result, we cannot assure you that we will be able to compete successfully with existing or new competitors.

 

We engage in hedging transactions which involve risks that could harm our business.

 

We are exposed to market risk from changes in commodity prices.  Exposure to commodity price risk results from our dependence on corn and natural gas in the ethanol production process.  We seek to minimize the risks from fluctuations in the prices of corn, natural gas and ethanol through the use of hedging instruments.  The effectiveness of our hedging strategies is dependent on the price of corn, natural gas and ethanol and our ability to sell sufficient products to use all of the corn and natural gas for which we have futures contracts.  Our hedging activities may not successfully reduce the risk caused by price fluctuation which may leave us vulnerable to high corn and natural gas prices, as well as low ethanol prices.

 

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Operational difficulties at our plants could negatively impact our sales volumes and could cause us to incur substantial losses.

 

We have experienced operational difficulties at our plants in the past that have resulted in scheduled and unscheduled downtime or reductions in the number of gallons of ethanol we produce. Some of the difficulties we have experienced relate to production problems, repairs required to our plants’ equipment and equipment maintenance, the installation of new equipment and related testing, and our efforts to improve and test our air emissions. Our revenues are driven in large part by the number of gallons of ethanol and the number of tons of distillers’ grains we produce. If our ethanol plants do not efficiently produce our products in high volumes, our business, results of operations, and financial condition may be materially adversely affected.

 

Our operations are also subject to operational hazards inherent in our industry and to manufacturing in general, such as equipment failures, fires, explosions, abnormal pressures, blowouts, pipeline ruptures, transportation accidents and natural disasters. Some of these operational hazards may cause personal injury or loss of life, severe damage to or destruction of property and equipment or environmental damage, and may result in suspension of operations and the imposition of civil or criminal penalties. The occurrence of any of these operational hazards may materially adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. Further, our insurance may not be adequate to fully cover the potential operational hazards described above or we may not be able to renew this insurance on commercially reasonable terms or at all.

 

Our operations and financial performance could be adversely affected by infrastructure disruptions and lack of adequate transportation and storage infrastructure in certain areas.

 

We ship our ethanol to our customers primarily by the railroad adjacent to our plant sites. We also have the potential to receive inbound corn via the railroad. Our customers require appropriate transportation and storage capacity to take delivery of the products we produce. Without the appropriate flow of natural gas to our plants, we may not be able to run at desired production levels or at all. Therefore, our business is dependent on the continuing availability of rail, highway and related infrastructure. Any disruptions in this infrastructure network, whether caused by labor difficulties, earthquakes, storms, other natural disasters, human error or malfeasance or other reasons, could have a material adverse effect on our business. We rely upon third-parties to maintain the rail lines from our plants to the national rail network, and any failure on their part to maintain the lines could impede our delivery of products, impose additional costs on us and could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

In addition, lack of this infrastructure prevents the use of ethanol in certain areas where there might otherwise be demand and results in excess ethanol supply in areas with more established ethanol infrastructure, depressing ethanol prices in those areas. In order for the ethanol industry to grow and expand into additional markets and for our ethanol to be sold in these new markets, there must be substantial development of infrastructure including:

·

additional rail capacity;

·

additional storage facilities for ethanol;

·

increases in truck fleets capable of transporting ethanol within localized markets;

·

expansion of refining and blending facilities to handle ethanol; and

·

growth in service stations equipped to handle ethanol fuels.

 

The substantial investments that will be required for these infrastructure changes and expansions may not be made on a timely basis, if at all, and decisions regarding these infrastructure improvements are outside of our control. Significant delay or failure to improve the infrastructure that facilitates the distribution could curtail more widespread ethanol demand or reduce prices for our products in certain areas, which would have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition.

 

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Rail logistical problems may result in delays in shipments of our products which could negatively impact our financial performance.

 

There has been an increase in rail traffic congestion throughout the U.S. primarily due to the increase in cargo trains carrying shale oil. From time to time, periodic high demand and unusually adverse weather conditions may cause rail congestion resulting in rail delays and rail logistical problems. Although we have not been materially affected by prior rail congestion period, future periods of congestion may affect our ability to operate our plants at full capacity due to ethanol storage capacity constraints, which in turn could have a negative effect on our financial performance.

 

We depend on our management and key employees, and the loss of these relationships could negatively impact our ability to operate profitably.

 

Our success depends in part on our ability to attract and retain competent personnel. For our ethanol plants, we must hire qualified managers, operations personnel, accounting staff and others, which can be challenging in a rural community.   Further, our current employees may decide to end their employment with us.  Competition for employees in the ethanol industry is intense, and we may not be able to attract and retain qualified personnel.

 

We are highly dependent on our management team to operate our ethanol plants.  We may not be able to replace these individuals should they decide to cease their employment with us, or if they become unavailable for any other reason.  Any loss of these officers and key employees may prevent us from operating the ethanol plants profitably and could decrease the value of our units.

 

Technology in our industry evolves rapidly, potentially causing our plants to become obsolete, and we must continue to enhance the technology of our plants or our business may suffer.

 

We expect that technological advances in the processes and procedures for processing ethanol will continue to occur. It is possible that those advances could make the processes and procedures that we utilize at our ethanol plants less efficient or obsolete. These advances could also allow our competitors to produce ethanol at a lower cost than we are able. If we are unable to adopt or incorporate technological advances, our ethanol production methods and processes could be less efficient than those of our competitors, which could cause our ethanol plants to become uncompetitive.

 

Ethanol production methods are continually advancing. Most ethanol produced in the U.S. is currently produced from corn and other raw grains, such as milo or sorghum - especially in the Midwest.  The current trend in ethanol production research is to develop an efficient method of producing ethanol from cellulose-based biomass such as agricultural waste, forest residue and municipal solid waste. This trend is driven by the fact that cellulose-based biomass is generally cheaper than corn and producing ethanol from cellulose-based biomass would create opportunities to produce ethanol in areas that are unable to grow corn. Another trend in ethanol production research is to produce ethanol through a chemical or thermal process, rather than a fermentation process, thereby significantly increasing the ethanol yield per pound of feedstock. Although current technology does not allow these production methods to be financially competitive, new technologies may develop that would allow these methods to become viable means of ethanol production in the future. If we are unable to adopt or incorporate these advances into our operations, our cost of producing ethanol could be significantly higher than those of our competitors, which could make our ethanol plants obsolete. Modifying our plants to use the new inputs and technologies would likely require material investment.

 

Competition from the advancement of alternative fuels may lessen the demand for ethanol.

 

Alternative fuels, gasoline oxygenates and ethanol production methods are continually under development. A number of automotive, industrial and power generation manufacturers are developing alternative clean power systems using fuel cells, plug-in hybrids or clean burning gaseous fuels. Like ethanol, these emerging technologies offer an option to address worldwide energy costs, the long-term availability of petroleum reserves and environmental concerns. If these alternative technologies continue to expand and gain broad acceptance and become readily available to consumers for motor vehicle use, we may not be able to compete effectively. This additional competition could reduce the demand for ethanol, resulting in lower ethanol prices that might adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.

 

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Our sales will decline, and our business will be materially harmed if our third party marketers do not effectively market or sell the ethanol, distillers’ grains and corn oil we produce or if there is a significant reduction or delay in orders from our marketers.

 

We have entered into agreements with a third parties to market our supply of ethanol, distillers’ grains and corn oil. Our marketers are independent businesses that we do not control. We cannot be certain that our marketers will market or sell our ethanol, distillers’ grains and corn oil effectively. Our agreements with our marketers do not contain requirements that a certain percentage of sales are of our products, nor do the agreements restrict the marketer’s ability to choose alternative sources for ethanol, distillers’ grains or corn oil.

 

Our success in achieving revenue from the sale of ethanol, distillers’ grains and corn oil will depend upon the continued viability and financial stability of our marketers. Our marketers may choose to devote their efforts to other producers or reduce or fail to devote the necessary resources to provide effective sales and marketing support of our products. We believe that our financial success will continue to depend in large part upon the success of our marketers in operating their businesses.

 

If our marketers breach their contracts or do not have the ability, for financial or other reasons, to market all of the ethanol we produce or to market the co-products produced at our plants, we may not have any readily available alternative means to sell our products. Our lack of a sales force and reliance on these third parties to sell and market most of our products may place us at a competitive disadvantage. Our failure to sell all of our ethanol and co-products may result in lower revenues and reduced profitability.

 

We are exposed to credit risk resulting from non-payment by significant customers.

 

We have a concentration of credit risk because GFE sells all of the ethanol, distillers’ grains, and corn oil produced to two customers and HLBE sells all of its ethanol, distillers’ grains, and corn oil produced to three customers. Although we typically receive payments timely and within the terms of our marketing agreements with these customers, we continually monitor this credit risk exposure. These customers accounted for approximately 97%, 99% and 99% of GFE’s revenue for the years ended October 31, 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively and approximately 97% and 89% of GFE’s outstanding accounts receivable balance at October 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively.  At HLBE, these customers accounted for approximately 94%, 97% and 96% of HLBE’s revenue for the years ended October 31, 2016, 2015, and 2014, respectively and approximately 95% and 97% of HLBE’s outstanding accounts receivable balance at October 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively.  The inability of a third party to pay our accounts receivable may cause us to experience losses and may adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to make our payments when due.

 

Consumer resistance to the use of ethanol based on the belief that ethanol is expensive, adds to air pollution, harms engines and/or takes more energy to produce than it contributes may affect the demand for ethanol.

 

Certain individuals believe that the use of ethanol will have a negative impact on gasoline prices at the pump. Some also believe that ethanol adds to air pollution and harms car and truck engines. Still other consumers believe that the process of producing ethanol actually uses more fossil energy, such as oil and natural gas, than the amount of energy that is produced. These consumer beliefs could potentially be wide-spread and may be increasing as a result of recent efforts to increase the allowable percentage of ethanol that may be blended for use in conventional automobiles.  If consumers choose not to buy ethanol based on these beliefs, it would affect the demand for the ethanol we produce which could negatively affect our profitability and financial condition.

 

26


 

Risks Related to Regulation and Governmental Action

 

Our failure to comply with existing or future regulatory requirements could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

We are subject to various federal, state and local environmental laws and regulations, including those relating to the discharge of materials into the air, water and ground. Certain aspects of our operations require environmental permits and controls to prevent and reduce air and water pollution, and these permits are subject to modification, renewal and revocation by issuing authorities including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. We could incur substantial costs, including cleanup costs, fines and civil or criminal sanctions and third-party claims for property damage and personal injury as a result of violations of or liabilities under environmental laws or non-compliance with environmental permits. We could also incur substantial costs and experience increased operating expenses as a result of operational changes to comply with environmental laws, regulations and permits. We have previously incurred substantial costs relating to our air emissions permit and expect additional costs relating to this permit in the future.

 

In connection with HLBE’s RTO replacement project, it has filed an application for a major amendment of its air emissions permit with the MPCA to allow for the replacement under its current permit. However, due to backlog in the permit approval process, on April 27, 2016, HLBE entered into a compliance agreement with the MPCA. Under the compliance agreement, the MPCA allowed HLBE to proceed with replacement of its RTO prior to receiving approval of its major amendment application provided HLBE operates the new RTO in compliance with its existing air emissions permit and completes certain green initiatives at the facility, which its completed before the end of fiscal year 2016.  Although HLBE doesnt anticipate significant changes to its air permit, the MPCA’s approval of its major amendment application could impose additional compliance requirements on HLBE, which could be significant.

 

Further, environmental laws and regulations are subject to substantial change. We cannot predict what material impact, if any, these changes in laws or regulations might have on our business. Future changes in regulations or enforcement policies could impose more stringent requirements on us, compliance with which could require additional capital expenditures, increase our operating costs or otherwise adversely affect our business. These changes may also relax requirements that could prove beneficial to our competitors and thus adversely affect our business. In addition, regulations of the EPA and the MPCA depend heavily on administrative interpretations. We cannot assure you that future interpretations made by regulatory authorities, with possible retroactive effect, will not adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.  Failure to comply with existing or future regulatory requirements could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

 

Because federal and state regulation heavily influence the supply of and demand for ethanol, changes in government regulation that adversely affect demand or supply will have a material adverse effect on our business.

 

Various federal and state laws, regulations and programs impact the supply of and demand for ethanol.  We believe the most important of these is the RFS, which sets minimum national volume standards for use of cellulosic, biomass-based diesel and total advanced renewable fuels.  The RFS helps support a market for ethanol that might disappear without this incentive. In the case of the RFS, while it creates a demand for ethanol, the existence of specific categories of renewable fuels also creates a demand for these types of renewable fuels and will likely provide an incentive for companies to further develop these products to capitalize on that demand. In these circumstances, the RFS may also reduce demand for ethanol in favor of the renewable fuels for which specific categories exist.

 

By statute, the RFS requires that 16.55 billion gallons be sold or dispensed in 2013, increasing to 36.0 billion gallons by 2022, but caps the amount of corn-based ethanol that can be used to meet the renewable fuels blending requirements at 15.0 billion gallons for 2015 and thereafter. On November 23, 2016, the EPA announced final RVO requirements for the RFS for calendar year 2017. The corn-based biofuel requirement of 15.0 billion gallons is an increase from the 14.8 billion gallons in the rule proposed in May 2016. This final rule achieves the statutory requirement level as originally set by Congress when the RFS was enacted. However, opponents of ethanol such as large oil companies will likely continue their efforts to repeal or reduce the RFS through lawsuits or lobbying of Congress. Successful reduction or repeal of the blending requirements of the RFS could result in a significant decrease in ethanol demand. Moreover, current ethanol production capacity exceeds the 2017 RVO standard which can be satisfied by corn-based ethanol. Reduction of blending requirements could reduce the demand for and price of ethanol. If demand for ethanol decreases, it could materially adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. 

 

27


 

The EPA imposed E10 “blend wall” if not overcome will have an adverse effect on demand for ethanol.

 

We believe that the E10 “blend wall” is one of the most critical governmental policies currently facing the ethanol industry. The “blend wall” issue arises because of several conflicting requirements. First, the renewable fuels standards dictate a continuing increase in the amount of ethanol blended into the national gasoline supply. Second, the EPA mandates a limit of 10% ethanol inclusion in non-flex fuel vehicles, and the E85 vehicle marketplace is struggling to grow due to lacking infrastructure. The EPA policy of 10% and the RFS increasing blend rate are at odds, which is sometimes referred to as the “blend wall.” While the issue is being considered by the EPA, there have been no regulatory changes that would reconcile the conflicting requirements. In 2011, the EPA allowed the use of E15, gasoline which is blended at a rate of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline, in vehicles manufactured in the model year 2001 and later. Management believes that many gasoline retailers will refuse to provide E15 due to the fact that not all standard vehicles will be allowed to use E15 and due to the labeling requirements the EPA may impose. As a result, the approval of E15 may not significantly increase demand for ethanol.

 

The California Low Carbon Fuel Standard may decrease demand for corn based ethanol which could negatively impact our profitability.

 

California passed a Low Carbon Fuels Standard (“LCFS”) which requires that renewable fuels used in California must accomplish certain reductions in greenhouse gases which reductions are measured using a lifecycle analysis. Management believes that these regulations could preclude corn based ethanol produced in the Midwest from being used in California. California represents a significant ethanol demand market. If the ethanol industry is unable to supply corn based ethanol to California, it could significantly reduce demand for the ethanol we produce. This could result in a reduction of our revenues and negatively impact our ability to profitably operate the ethanol plant.

 

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.

 

When the EPA released its final regulations on RFS, these regulations grandfathered our plants at their current production capacity for the generation of RINs for compliance with RFS. Any expansion of our plants beyond the grandfathered volumes must meet a threshold of a 20% reduction in GHG emissions from a 2005 baseline measurement for the ethanol to be eligible to generate RINS for compliance with the RFS mandate.

 

In 2015, our plants were awarded “efficient producer” status under the pathway petition program for the non-grandfathered volumes of ethanol produced at our plants. Pursuant to the award approval, HLBE and GFE are only authorized to generate RINs for each plant’s non-grandfathered volumes if each plant can demonstrate that all ethanol produced at the plant during an averaging period (defined as the prior 365 days or the number of days since the date EPA efficient producer pathway approval) meets the 20% GHG reduction requirement.

 

Although we believe GFE and HLBE will be able to maintain continuous compliance with the 20% reduction in GHG emissions requirement as presently operated, there is no guarantee that we will not have to install carbon dioxide mitigation equipment or take other steps unknown to us at this time in order to comply with the efficient producer requirements or other future law or regulation.  Continued compliance with the efficient producer GHG reduction requirements or compliance with future law or 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.

 

28


 

If we fail to comply with the 20% reduction in GHG emissions requirement, we will not be able to generate RINs for our non-grandfathered volumes of ethanol, which could adversely affect our operating margins.

 

We expect that nearly all of the anticipated demand for our ethanol production will be by customers obligated to comply with the RFS. The EPA's approval of our efficient producer petitions requires that the plant demonstrates continuous compliance with the 20% reduction in GHG emissions for all volumes of ethanol produced, not just non-grandfathered volumes of ethanol. If we cannot show continuous compliance with the requirement for all volumes of ethanol, we will not be able issue RINs for the non-grandfathered volumes of ethanol produced. If our ethanol production does not meet the requirements for RIN generation as administered by the EPA, we may be required to sell those gallons of ethanol without RINs at lower prices in the domestic market to compensate for the lack of RINs or sell these gallons of ethanol in the export market where RINs are not required, which could adversely affect our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition.

 

Risks Related to the Units

 

There is no public market for our units and no public market is expected to develop.

 

There is no established public trading market for our units, and we do not expect one to develop in the foreseeable future.  We have established through FNC Ag Stock, LLC, a Unit Trading Bulletin Board, a private online matching service, in order to facilitate trading among our members.  The Unit Trading Bulletin Board has been designed to comply with federal tax laws and IRS regulations establishing a “qualified matching service,” as well as state and federal securities laws.  The Unit Trading Bulletin Board does not automatically affect matches between potential sellers and buyers and it is the sole responsibility of sellers and buyers to contact each other to make a determination as to whether an agreement to transfer units may be reached.  There are detailed timelines that must be followed under the Unit Trading Bulletin Board Rules and Procedures with respect to offers and sales of membership units. All transactions must comply with the Unit Trading Bulletin Board Rules, our member control agreement, and are subject to approval by our board of governors.  As a result, units held by our members may not be easily resold and members may be required to hold their units indefinitely. Even if members are able to resell our units, the price may be less than the members’ investment in the units or may otherwise be unattractive to the member.

 

There are significant restrictions on the transfer of our units.

 

To protect our status as a partnership for tax purposes and to assure that no public trading market in our units develops, our units are subject to significant restrictions on transfer and transfers are subject to approval by our board of governors. All transfers of units must comply with the transfer provisions of our member control agreement and the unit transfer policy adopted by our board of governors. Our board of governors will not approve transfers which could cause us to lose our tax status or violate federal or state securities laws. As a result of the provisions of our member control agreement, members may not be able to transfer their units and may be required to assume the risks of the investment for an indefinite period of time.

 

There is no assurance that we will be able to make distributions to our unit holders, which means that holders could receive little or no return on their investment.

 

Distributions of our net cash flow may be made at the sole discretion of our board of governors, subject to the provisions of the Minnesota Limited Liability Company Act, our member control agreement and restrictions imposed by lender under our credit facilities. Our credit facilities currently limit our ability to make distributions to our members. If our financial performance and loan covenants permit, we expect to make cash distributions at times and in amounts that will permit our members to make income tax payments, along with distributions in excess of these amounts. However, our board may elect to retain cash for operating purposes, debt retirement, plant improvements or expansion. Although we have made distributions in the past, there is no guarantee that we will be in a financial position to pay distributions in the future, that the terms of our credit facility will allow us to make distributions to our members, or that distributions, if any, will be at times or in amounts to permit our members to make income tax payments. Consequently, members may receive little or no return on their investment in the units.

 

29


 

Risks Related to Tax Issues in a Limited Liability Company

 

EACH UNIT HOLDER SHOULD CONSULT THE INVESTOR’S OWN TAX ADVISOR WITH RESPECT TO THE FEDERAL AND STATE TAX CONSEQUENCES OF AN INVESTMENT IN GRANITE FALLS ENERGY, LLC AND ITS IMPACT ON THE INVESTOR’S TAX REPORTING OBLIGATIONS AND LIABILITY.

 

If we are not taxed as a partnership, we will pay taxes on all of our net income and you will be taxed on any earnings we distribute, and this will reduce the amount of cash available for distributions to holders of our units.

 

We consider Granite Falls Energy, LLC to be a partnership for federal income tax purposes. This means that we will not pay any federal income tax, and our members will pay tax on their share of our net income. If we are unable to maintain our partnership tax treatment or qualify for partnership taxation for whatever reason, then we may be taxed as a corporation. We cannot assure you that we will be able to maintain our partnership tax classification. For example, there might be changes in the law or our company that would cause us to be reclassified as a corporation. As a corporation, we would be taxed on our taxable income at rates of up to 35% for federal income tax purposes. Further, distributions would be treated as ordinary dividend income to our unit holders to the extent of our earnings and profits. These distributions would not be deductible by us, thus resulting in double taxation of our earnings and profits. This would also reduce the amount of cash we may have available for distributions.

 

Your tax liability from your allocated share of our taxable income may exceed any cash distributions you receive, which means that you may have to satisfy this tax liability with your personal funds.

 

As a partnership for federal income tax purposes, all of our profits and losses “pass-through” to our unit holders. You must pay tax on your allocated share of our taxable income every year. You may incur tax liabilities from allocations of taxable income for a particular year or in the aggregate that exceed any cash distributions you receive in that year or in the aggregate. This may occur because of various factors, including but not limited to, accounting methodology, the specific tax rates you face, and payment obligations and other debt covenants that restrict our ability to pay cash distributions. If this occurs, you may have to pay income tax on your allocated share of our taxable income with your own personal funds.

 

You may not be able to fully deduct your share of our losses or your interest expense.

 

It is likely that your interest in us will be treated as a “passive activity” for federal income tax purposes. In the case of unit holders who are individuals or personal services corporations, this means that a unit holder’s share of any loss incurred by us will be deductible only against the holder’s income or gains from other passive activities, e.g., S corporations and partnerships that conduct a business in which the holder is not a material participant. Some closely held C corporations have more favorable passive loss limitations. Passive activity losses that are disallowed in any taxable year are suspended and may be carried forward and used as an offset against passive activity income in future years. Upon disposition of a taxpayer’s entire interest in a passive activity to an unrelated person in a taxable transaction, suspended losses with respect to that activity may then be deducted.

 

Interest paid on any borrowings incurred to purchase units may not be deductible in whole or in part because the interest must be aggregated with other items of income and loss that the unit holder has independently experienced from passive activities and subjected to limitations on passive activity losses.

 

Deductibility of capital losses that we incur and pass through to you or that you incur upon disposition of units may be limited. Capital losses are deductible only to the extent of capital gains plus, in the case of non-corporate taxpayers, the excess may be used to offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income. If a non-corporate taxpayer cannot fully utilize a capital loss because of this limitation, the unused loss may be carried forward and used in future years subject to the same limitations in the future years.

 

30


 

You may be subject to federal alternative minimum tax

 

Individual taxpayers are subject to an “alternative minimum tax” if that tax exceeds the individual’s regular income tax. For alternative minimum tax purposes, an individual’s adjusted gross income is increased by items of tax preference. We may generate such preference items. Accordingly, preference items from our operations together with other preference items you may have may cause or increase an alternative minimum tax to a unit holder. You are encouraged and expected to consult with your individual tax advisor to analyze and determine the effect on your individual tax situation of the alternative minimum taxable income you may be allocated, particularly in the early years of our operations.

 

Preparation of your tax returns may be complicated and expensive.

 

The tax treatment of limited liability companies and the rules regarding partnership allocations are complex. We will file a partnership income tax return and will furnish each unit holder with a Schedule K-1 that sets forth our determination of that unit holder’s allocable share of income, gains, losses and deductions. In addition to U.S. federal income taxes, unit holders will likely be subject to other taxes, such as state and local taxes, that are imposed by various jurisdictions. It is the responsibility of each unit holder to file all applicable federal, state and local tax returns and pay all applicable taxes. You may wish to engage a tax professional to assist you in preparing your tax returns and this could be costly to you.

 

Any audit of our tax returns resulting in adjustments could result in additional tax liability to you.

 

The IRS may audit our tax returns and may disagree with the positions that we take on our returns or any Schedule K-1. If any of the information on our partnership tax return or a Schedule K-1 is successfully challenged by the IRS, the character and amount of items of income, gains, losses, deductions or credits in a manner allocable to some or all our unit holders may change in a manner that adversely affects those unit holders. This could result in adjustments on unit holders’ tax returns and in additional tax liabilities, penalties and interest to you. An audit of our tax returns could lead to separate audits of your personal tax returns, especially if adjustments are required.

 

 

ITEM 1B.UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

 

None.

 

 

ITEM 2.  PROPERTIES.

 

Our Granite Falls ethanol plant is located approximately three miles east of Granite Falls, Minnesota in Chippewa County at the junction of Highways 212 and 23.  The plant’s address is 15045 Highway 23 SE, Granite Falls, Minnesota. The ethanol plant sits on approximately 216 acres. This site includes an administrative building which serves as our headquarters.  The site also includes corn, ethanol, and distillers’ grains handling facilities.  All of our tangible and intangible property, real and personal, serves as the collateral for our credit facilities with United FCS, PCA.

 

HLBE’s ethanol plant is sited on approximately 216 acres of land located near Heron Lake, Minnesota.  The site includes corn, coal, ethanol, and distillers’ grains storage and handling facilities. Located on these 216 acres is an administration building that serves as HLBE’s headquarters.  The plant’s address is 91246 390th Avenue, Heron Lake, Minnesota 56137-3175.  All of HLBE’s real property is subject to mortgages in favor of AgStar as security for loan obligations.

 

HLBE’s majority owned subsidiary, Agrinatural, property consists of 187 miles of distribution main pipelines and service pipelines, together with the associated easement and land rights, a town border station, meters and regulators, office and other equipment and construction in process. All of Agrinatural’s real property and assets are subject to mortgages in favor of HLBE as security for loan obligations owed to HLBE.

 

HLBE’s and Agrinatural’s credit facilities are discussed in more detail under “ITEM 7.  MANAGEMENT’S DISCU.S.SION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS - Credit Arrangements”.

 

 

31


 

ITEM 3.LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

 

From time to time in the ordinary course of business, Granite Falls Energy, LLC or its subsidiaries may be named as a defendant in legal proceedings related to various issues, including workers’ compensation claims, tort claims, or contractual disputes. We are not currently involved in any material legal proceedings.

 

 

ITEM 4.MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES

 

None.

 

 

PART II

 

 

ITEM 5.  MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES.

 

Market Information

 

There is no public trading market for our units. However, GFE has established an online unit trading bulletin board (“QMS”) through FNC Ag Stock, LLC, in order to facilitate trading in our units. The QMS has been designed to comply with federal tax laws and IRS regulations establishing a “qualified matching service,” as well as state and federal securities laws. The QMS consists of an electronic bulletin board that provides a list of interested buyers with a list of interested sellers, along with their non-firm price quotes. The QMS does not automatically affect matches between potential sellers and buyers and it is the sole responsibility of sellers and buyers to contact each other to make a determination as to whether an agreement to transfer units may be reached. We do not become involved in any purchase or sale negotiations arising from the QMS and have no role in effecting the transactions beyond approval, as required under our member control agreement, and the issuance of new certificates. We do not give advice regarding the merits or shortcomings of any particular transaction. We do not receive, transfer or hold funds or securities as an incident of operating the QMS. We do not receive any compensation for creating or maintaining the QMS. In advertising the QMS, we do not characterize Granite Falls Energy as being a broker or dealer or an exchange.  We do not use the QMS to offer to buy or sell securities other than in compliance with securities laws, including any applicable registration requirements.

 

There are detailed timelines that must be followed under the QMS rules and procedures with respect to offers and sales of membership units. All transactions must comply with the QMS rules and procedures, our member control agreement, and are subject to approval by our board of governors.

 

So long as we remain a publicly reporting company, information about the Company will be publicly available through the SEC’s filing system. However, if at any time we cease to be a publicly reporting company, we anticipate continuing to make information about the Company publicly available on our website in order to continue operating the QMS.

 

The following table contains historical information by fiscal quarter for the past two fiscal years regarding the actual unit transactions that were completed by our unit-holders during the periods specified.  We believe this most accurately represents the current trading value of the Company’s units.  The information was compiled by reviewing the completed unit transfers that occurred on our qualified matching service bulletin board during the quarters indicated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Quarter

    

Low Per Unit Price

    

High Per Unit Price

 

Total Units Traded

2015 1st

 

$

3,375

 

$

4,060

 

38

2015 2nd

 

$

3,250

 

$

3,400

 

6

2015 3rd

 

$

2,500

 

$

3,000

 

147

2015 4th

 

$

 

$

 

2016 1st

 

$

3,500

 

$

3,601

 

30

2016 2nd

 

$

 —

 

$

 —

 

2016 3rd

 

$

2,500

 

$

3,475

 

47

2016 4th

 

$

2,500

 

$

2,575

 

59

 

32


 

As a limited liability company, we are required to restrict the transfers of our membership units in order to preserve our partnership tax status.  Our membership units may not be traded on any established securities market or readily traded on a secondary market (or the substantial equivalent thereof).  All transfers are subject to a determination that the transfer will not cause Granite Falls Energy to be deemed a publicly traded partnership.

 

Issuer Repurchases of Equity Securities

 

We did not make any repurchases of our units during fiscal year 2016.

 

Holders of Record

 

As of January 30, 2017, there were approximately 979 holders of record of our membership units. 

 

As of October 31, 2016 and January 30, 2017, there were no outstanding options or warrants to purchase, or securities convertible for or into, our units.

 

Distributions

 

Granite Falls Energy

 

Distributions by GFE to its unit holders are in proportion to the number of units held by each unit holder.  A unit holder’s distribution is determined by multiplying the number of units by distribution per unit declared.  GFE’s board of governors has complete discretion over the timing and amount of distributions to our unit holders. However, GFE’s  credit facility with United FCS, PCA provides that we may not declare any distributions other than, for each fiscal year, one or more distributions up to an aggregate of 100% of the net profit (determined according to GAAP) for such fiscal year; provided that the we are and will remain in compliance with all of the covenants, terms and conditions of the credit facility. If our financial performance and loan covenants permit, we expect to make future cash distributions at times and in amounts that will permit our members to make income tax payments, along with distributions in excess of these amounts. Cash distributions are not assured, however, and in the future, we may not be in a position to make distributions. Under Minnesota law, we cannot make a distribution to a member if, after the distribution, we would not be able to pay our debts as they become due or our liabilities, excluding liabilities to our members on account of their capital contributions, would exceed our assets.

 

Below is a table representing the cash distributions declared or paid to the members of Granite Falls Energy during the fiscal years ended October 31, 2016,  2015, and 2014, and subsequent to our fiscal year ended October 31, 2016.   Based on the covenants discussed above, all of the below distributions were approved by our lender prior to distribution.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

    

Distribution

    

Distributed to GFE 

 

Date Declared to GFE Members of Record:

 

Total Distribution

 

Per Unit

 

Members on:

 

December 22, 2016

 

$

11,171,190

 

$

365

 

January 2017

 

December 17, 2015

 

$

9,640,886

 

$

315

 

January 25, 2016

 

December 18, 2014

 

$

32,136,300

 

$

1,050

 

January 19, 2015

 

December 19, 2013

 

$

5,509,080

 

$

180

 

December 31, 2013

 

 

Heron Lake BioEnergy

 

Distributions by HLBE to its unit holders are in proportion to the number of units held by each unit holder. A unit holder's distribution is determined by multiplying the number of units by distribution per unit declared. HLBE’s board of governors has complete discretion over the timing and amount of distributions to its unit holders. Distributions are restricted by certain loan covenants in its credit facility with AgStar. Additionally, under Minnesota law, HLBE cannot make a distribution to a member if, after the distribution, its would not be able to pay its debts as they become due or its liabilities, excluding liabilities to its members on account of their capital contributions, would exceed its assets.

 

33


 

Below is a table representing the cash distributions declared or paid to HLBE’s members, as well as GFE’s share of the same, during the fiscal years ended October 31, 2016,  2015, and 2014. As of October 31, 2016 and January 30, 2017, GFE owns 39,420,949 Class A membership units and 15,000,000 Class B units of HLBE, or approximately 50.6% of the outstanding membership units of HLBE. Based on the covenants discussed above, all of the below distributions were approved by HLBE’s lender prior to distribution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

    

Distribution

    

Distributed to HLBE

 

Total Distribution

Date Declared to HLBE Members of Record:

 

Total Distribution

 

Per Unit

 

Members on:

 

to GFE:

December 17, 2015

 

$

3,896,605

 

$

0.05

 

January 25, 2016

 

$

1,971,047

December 18, 2014

 

$

9,351,853

 

$

0.12

 

January 19, 2015

 

$

4,730,514

 

Unregistered Sales of Equity Securities

 

The Company had no unregistered sales of securities during fiscal year 2016.

 

Securities Authorized for Issuance Under Equity Compensation Plans

 

As of the date of this annual report, we had no “equity compensation plans” (including individual equity compensation arrangements) under which any of our equity securities are authorized for issuance.

 

Performance Graph

 

The following graph shows a comparison of cumulative total member return since October 31, 2011, calculated on a dividend reinvested basis, for the Company, the NASDAQ Composite Index (the “NASDAQ”) and an index of other companies that have the same SIC code as the Company (the “SIC Code Index”). The graph assumes $100 was invested in each of the Company’s units, the NASDAQ, and the Industry Index on October 31, 2011. Data points on the graph are annual. Note that historic stock price performance is not necessarily indicative of future unit price performance.

 

GFE Mkt Graph.png

 

Pursuant to the rules and regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the performance graph and the information set forth therein shall not be deemed to be filed for purposes of Section 18 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and shall not be deemed to be incorporated by reference in any filing under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or the Exchange Act, except as shall be expressly set forth by specific reference in such a filing.

 

34


 

ITEM 6.  SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA

 

The following table presents selected consolidated financial and operating data as of the dates and for the periods indicated.  Due to the acquisition of a majority ownership of HLBE on July 31, 2013 (through the acquisition of Project Viking), the following information includes consolidated financial and operating data for the fiscal years 2016, 2015, 2014, and the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2013 of HLBE. The selected consolidated balance sheet financial data as of October 31, 2016 and 2015 and the selected consolidated statement of operations data and other financial data for each of the years in the three-year period ended October 31, 2016 have been derived from the audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this Form 10-K.  The selected consolidated balance sheet financial data as of October 31, 2014, 2013 and 2012 and the selected consolidated statement of operations data and other financial data for the years ended October 31, 2013 and 2012 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements that are not included in this Form 10-K. The consolidated financial statements consolidate the operating results and financial position of GFE and its wholly owned subsidiary, Project Viking, which owns 50.6% of HLBE at October 31, 2016. The remaining approximately 49.4% ownership of HLBE is included in the consolidated financial statements as a non-controlling interest. This selected consolidated financial data should be read in conjunction with “ITEM 7 - MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS” and the consolidated financial statements and the accompanying notes included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Among other things, those financial statements include more detailed information regarding the basis of presentation for the following consolidated financial data (amounts in thousands,  except per unit data and unless context otherwise requires).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Statement of Operations Data for the

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fiscal year ended October 31, 

   

2016

  

2015

   

2014

   

2013

   

2012

 

Revenues

 

$

215,526

 

$

231,255

 

$

300,955

 

$

224,101

 

$

175,162

 

Cost of Goods Sold

 

 

198,627

 

 

208,654

 

 

237,434

 

 

210,078

 

 

172,708

 

Gross Profit

 

 

16,899

 

 

22,601

 

 

63,521

 

 

14,023

 

 

2,454

 

Operating Expenses

 

 

5,326

 

 

5,176

 

 

5,151

 

 

2,989

 

 

2,450

 

Operating Income

 

 

11,573

 

 

17,425

 

 

58,370

 

 

11,034

 

 

4

 

Other Income (Expense)

 

 

(345)

 

 

(478)

 

 

720

 

 

(476)

 

 

156

 

Net Income

 

 

11,228

 

 

16,947

 

 

59,090

 

 

10,558

 

 

160

 

Net Income Attributable to Non-controlling Interest

 

 

(2,505)

 

 

(3,360)

 

 

(10,317)

 

 

(527)

 

 

 

Net Income Attributable to Granite Falls Energy, LLC

 

$

8,723

 

$

13,587

 

$

48,773

 

$

10,031

 

$

160

 

Amounts Attributable to Granite Falls Energy, LLC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weighted Average Units Outstanding - Basic and Diluted

 

 

30,606

 

 

30,606

 

 

30,606

 

 

30,606

 

 

30,656

 

Net Income Per Unit - Basic and Diluted

 

$

285.00

 

$

443.92

 

$

1,593.61

 

$

327.78

 

$

5.25

 

Distributions Per Unit

 

$

315.00

 

$

1,050.00

 

$

180.00

 

$

 

$

 —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Balance Sheet Data at October 31, 

    

2016

    

2015

    

2014

    

2013

    

2012

 

Current Assets

 

$

40,349

 

$

35,513

 

$

49,402

 

$

21,470

 

$

20,715

 

Property and Equipment, net

 

 

78,968

 

 

84,304

 

 

88,028

 

 

88,809

 

 

40,418

 

Goodwill

 

 

1,372

 

 

1,372

 

 

1,372

 

 

1,372

 

 

 

Other Assets

 

 

781

 

 

821

 

 

860

 

 

1,022

 

 

 

Total Assets

 

$

121,470

 

$

122,011

 

$

139,662

 

$

112,673

 

$

61,133

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Current Liabilities

 

 

14,337

 

 

9,139

 

 

11,580

 

 

11,323

 

 

6,003

 

Long-Term Debt, less current portion

 

 

1,393

 

 

6,712

 

 

2,112

 

 

32,982

 

 

5,275

 

Members' Equity Attributable to Granite Falls Energy, LLC

 

 

83,685

 

 

84,603

 

 

103,152

 

 

59,887

 

 

49,855

 

Non-controlling interest

 

 

22,056

 

 

21,557

 

 

22,818

 

 

8,481

 

 

 

Total Members' Equity

 

 

105,741

 

 

106,160

 

 

125,970

 

 

68,368

 

 

49,855

 

Total Liabilities and Members' Equity

 

$

121,471

 

$

122,011

 

$

139,662

 

$

112,673

 

$

55,858

 

 

 

35


 

ITEM 7.MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS.

 

General

 

We prepared the following discussion and analysis to help readers better understand our financial condition, changes in our financial condition, and results of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016.  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

 

Our business consists primarily of the production and sale of ethanol and its co-products (wet, modified wet and dried distillers’ grains, corn oil and corn syrup) locally, and throughout the continental U.S.  Our production operations are carried out at GFE’s plant located in Granite Falls, Minnesota and HLBE’s ethanol plant near Heron Lake, Minnesota.

 

The GFE plant has an annual production capacity of 62 million gallons of denatured ethanol, but is currently permitted to produce up to 70 million gallons of undenatured ethanol on a twelve month rolling sum basis.  The HLBE plant has an approximate annual production capacity of 64 million gallons of denatured ethanol, but is currently permitted production capacity to produce approximately 72 million gallons of undenatured ethanol on a twelve-month rolling sum basis.  We intend to continue working toward increasing production to take advantage of the additional production allowed pursuant to our permits as long as we believe it is profitable to do so.

 

HLBE also owns a controlling 73% interest in Agrinatural, which is a natural gas distribution and sales company located in Heron Lake, Minnesota that owns approximately 187 miles of natural gas pipeline and provides natural gas to HLBE’s ethanol plant and other commercial, agricultural and residential customers through a connection with the natural gas pipeline facilities of Northern Border Pipeline Company.  Agrinatural's revenues are generated through natural gas distribution fees and sales.

 

Reportable Operating Segments

 

Our revenues from operations come from three primary sources: sales of fuel ethanol, sales of distillers' grains and sales of corn oil at GFE's ethanol plant and HLBE's ethanol plant.  Operating segments are defined as components of an enterprise for which separate financial information is available that is evaluated regularly by the chief operating decision maker in deciding how to allocate resources and in assessing performance.  Therefore, based on the criteria set forth in ASC 280 we have determined that based on the nature of the products and production process and the expected financial results, the Company’s operations at its ethanol plant and HLBE's plant, including the production and sale of ethanol and its co-products, are aggregated into one reporting segment.

 

Additionally, we also realize relatively immaterial revenue from natural gas pipeline operations at Agrinatural, HLBE's majority owned subsidiary. The intercompany transactions between HLBE and Agrinatural resulting from the firm natural gas transportation agreement between the two companies are eliminated in consolidation. After intercompany eliminations, revenues from Agrinatural represent less than less than 1% of our consolidated revenues and have little to no impact on the overall performance of the Company.  Therefore, our management does not separately review Agrinatural's operating performance information.  Rather, management reviews Agrinatural's natural gas pipeline financial data on a consolidated basis with our ethanol production operations segment. Additionally, management believes that the presentation of separate operating performance information for Agrinatural's natural gas pipeline operations would not provide meaningful information to a reader of the Company’s audited consolidated financial statements.

 

We currently do not have or anticipate that we will have any other lines of business or other significant sources of revenue other than the sale of ethanol and its co-products, which include distillers' grains and non-edible corn oil.

 

36


 

Plan of Operations Through October 31, 2017

 

Over the next year we will continue our focus on operational improvements at our plants. These operational improvements include exploring methods to improve ethanol yield per bushel and increasing production output at our plants, continued emphasis on safety and environmental regulation, reducing our operating costs, and optimizing our margin opportunities through prudent risk-management policies.

 

We expect to have sufficient cash generated by continuing operations and availability on our credit facilities to fund our operations at our plants.  However, should we experience unfavorable operating conditions in the ethanol industry that prevent us from profitably operating our plants, we may need to seek additional funding.

 

At the GFE plant, we constructed an additional grain bin, which expands the GFE plant’s grain storage by approximately 750,000 bushels. The grain storage expansion project was commenced in August 2015 and was completed during the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016. 

 

At the HLBE plant, the existing regenerative thermal oxidizer (“RTO”) was replaced with installation and emissions testing of the new RTO completed emissions testing during third fiscal quarter of 2016.

 

Both GFE’s corn storage expansion project and HLBE’s RTO replacement project were funded from current earnings from operations. In addition, we anticipate continuing to conduct routine maintenance and repair activities at the GFE and HLBE ethanol plants. We anticipate using cash we generate from our operations and, as needed, our credit facilities to finance these plant upgrade projects. 

 

Trends and Uncertainties Impacting Our Operations

 

The principal factors affecting our results of operations and financial conditions are the market prices for corn, ethanol, distillers’ grains and natural gas, as well as governmental programs designed to create incentives for the use of corn-based ethanol.  Other factors that may affect our future results of operation include those risks and factors discussed in this report at “PART I - Item 1. Business” and “PART I - Item 1A. Risk Factors”.

 

Our operations are highly dependent on commodity prices, especially prices for corn, ethanol, distillers’ grains and natural gas. As a result, our operating results can fluctuate substantially due to volatility in these commodity markets. The price and availability of corn is subject to significant fluctuations depending upon a number of factors that affect commodity prices in general, including crop conditions, yields, domestic and global stocks, weather, federal policy and foreign trade. Natural gas prices are influenced by severe weather in the summer and winter and hurricanes in the spring, summer and fall. Other factors include North American exploration and production, and the amount of natural gas in underground storage during injection and withdrawal seasons. Ethanol prices are sensitive to world crude oil supply and demand, domestic gasoline supply and demand, the price of crude oil, gasoline and corn, the price of substitute fuels and octane enhancers, refining capacity and utilization, government regulation and incentives and consumer demand for alternative fuels. Distillers’ grains prices are impacted by livestock numbers on feed, prices for feed alternatives and supply, which is associated with ethanol plant production.

 

We expect our ethanol plants to produce approximately 2.8 gallons of denatured ethanol for each bushel of grain processed in the production cycle. Because the market price of ethanol is not always directly related to corn, at times ethanol prices may lag price movements in corn prices and corn-ethanol price spread (the difference between the price per gallon of ethanol and the price per bushel of grain divided by 2.8) may be tightly compressed or negative. If the corn-ethanol spread is compressed or negative for sustained period, it is possible that our operating margins will decline or become negative and our ethanol plants may not generate adequate cash flow for operations. In such cases, we may reduce or cease production at our ethanol plants in order to minimize our variable costs and optimize cash flow.

 

37


 

The crush spread realized in fiscal year 2016 has continued to be negatively impacted by lower energy pricing and over supply of ethanol. High industry production levels outpaced strong domestic consumption and export demand experienced during the last two quarters of our 2016 fiscal year. In addition, because ethanol prices are typically directionally consistent with changes in corn and energy prices, lower corn, crude oil and gasoline prices throughout the fiscal year had a negative affect on ethanol prices. Corn prices were favorably impacted throughout the year from the consecutive strong U.S. corn harvests in 2016, 2015 and 2014.  Additionally, management believes ethanol prices were negatively impacted throughout our 2016 fiscal year by the EPA’s draft proposal to reduce the amount of renewable fuels which are required to be used in the United States pursuant to the RFS. In the past, many fuel blenders used ethanol because of the difference in price between gasoline and ethanol. This voluntary use of ethanol in excess of the requirements in the RFS has decreased due to the fact that the spread between the price of ethanol and gasoline is smaller.

 

Historically, sales prices for distillers’ grains have correlated with prices of corn. However, there have been occasions when distillers’ grains prices have not been directly correlated to changes in corn prices. 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. In addition, distillers’ grains compete with other protein-based animal feed products. 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 and corn, will generally cause the price of competing animal feed products to decline.

 

Given the inherent volatility in ethanol, distillers’ grains, non-food grade corn oil, grain and natural gas prices, we cannot predict the likelihood that the spread between ethanol, distillers’ grains, non-food grade corn oil and grain prices in future periods will be consistent compared to historical periods.

 

Results of Operations for the Fiscal Years Ended October 31, 2016 and 2015 

 

The following table shows the results of our operations and the percentage of revenues, costs of goods sold, operating expenses and other items to total revenues in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal years ended October 31, 2016 and 2015 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year EndedOctober 31, 

 

 

2016

 

2015

Income Statement Data

    

Amount

    

%  

 

Amount

    

%  

Revenue

 

$

215,526

 

100.0

%

 

$

231,255

 

100.0

%

Cost of Goods Sold

 

 

198,627

 

92.2

%

 

 

208,654

 

90.2

%

Gross Profit

 

 

16,899

 

7.8

%

 

 

22,601

 

9.8

%

Operating Expenses

 

 

5,326

 

2.5

%

 

 

5,176

 

2.2

%

Operating Income

 

 

11,573

 

5.4

%

 

 

17,425

 

7.6

%

Other Expense, net

 

 

(345)

 

(0.2)

%

 

 

(478)

 

(0.2)

%

Net Income

 

 

11,228

 

5.2

%

 

 

16,947

 

7.4

%

Less: Net Income Attributable to Non-controlling Interest

 

 

2,505

 

1.2

%

 

 

3,360

 

1.5

%

Net Income Attributable to Granite Falls Energy, LLC

 

$

8,723

 

4.0

%

 

$

13,587

 

5.9

%

 

Revenues

 

Our revenues from operations come from three primary sources: sales of fuel ethanol, sales of distillers’ grains and sales of corn oil. Our remaining consolidated revenues are attributable to miscellaneous other revenue from incidental sales of corn syrup at HLBE’s plant and revenues generated from natural gas pipeline operations at Agrinatural, of which HLBE owns a 73% controlling interest.

 

38


 

The following table shows the sources of our consolidated revenue and the approximate percentage of revenues from those sources to total revenues in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year Ended October 31, 2016

Revenue Sources

 

Sales Revenue

    

% of Total Revenues

Ethanol sales

 

$

170,960

 

79.3

%

Distillers' grains sales

 

 

33,988

 

15.8

%

Corn oil sales

 

 

8,932

 

4.1

%

Miscellaneous other

 

 

1,646

 

0.8

%

Total Revenues

 

$

215,526

 

100.0

%

 

The following table shows the sources of our consolidated revenue and the approximate percentage of revenues from those sources to total revenues in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year Ended October 31, 2015

Revenue Sources

 

Sales Revenue

    

% of Total Revenues

Ethanol sales

 

$

180,472

 

78.0

%

Distillers' grains sales

 

 

43,181

 

18.7

%

Corn oil sales

 

 

6,131

 

2.7

%

Miscellaneous other

 

 

1,471

 

0.6

%

Total Revenues

 

$

231,255

 

100.0

%

 

Our total consolidated revenues decreased by approximately 6.8% for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, as compared to the fiscal year 2015, primarily due to decreases in the average price realized for our ethanol and distillers’ grains which were partially mitigated by increases in total volumes sold of our ethanol and corn oil.  The following table reflects quantities of our three primary products sold and the average net prices received for the fiscal years ended October 31, 2016 and 2015 (quanties in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended October 31, 2016

 

Year Ended October 31, 2015

Product

 

Quantity Sold

 

Avg. Net Price

 

Quantity Sold

 

Avg. Net Price

Ethanol (gallons)

 

125,533

 

$

1.36

 

122,992

 

$

1.47

Distillers' grains (tons)

 

300

 

$

113.35

 

314

 

$

137.33

Corn oil (pounds)

 

34,238

 

$

0.26

 

23,396

 

$

0.26

 

Ethanol

 

Total revenues from sales of ethanol decreased by approximately 5.3% for fiscal year 2016 compared to the fiscal year 2015 due primarily to an approximately 7.2% decline in the average price per gallon we received for our ethanol which was partially mitigated by approximately 2.1% increase in the volumes sold from period to period. We produced and sold more ethanol gallons during fiscal year 2016 as compared to fiscal year 2015 primarily due to the timing of ethanol shipments and increases in ethanol production at the GFE and HLBE plants. Ethanol production was higher at our plants compared to prior year due to capital improvements we are making at our plants designed to increase ethanol production. 

 

Management attributes the decrease in ethanol prices to continuing lower corn and gasoline prices, which impacts the market price of ethanol. In addition, management believes the uncertainty related to EPA proposed reductions in the RFS volume obligations during 2016 also impacted ethanol demand, negatively impacting ethanol prices especially during the first half of our 2016 fiscal year. Over the summer months, ethanol prices were bouyed somewhat by an increase in domestic demand for ethanol due to lower gasoline prices and stronger export demand, particularly from Asia, which management attributes to lower domestic ethanol prices and increased worldwide ethanol demand. However, domestic ethanol production increased in response to the uptick in demand, which increased domestic stocks of ethanol putting downward pressure on domestic ethanol prices. Additionally, declining corn prices in fall 2016, due to the large 2016 crop, put further downward pressure on ethanol prices.  The net effect of these factors was a decrease in the average price realized for our ethanol for fiscal year 2016 as compared to the fiscal year 2015.

 

39


 

Management anticipates that ethanol prices will continue to change in relation to changes in corn and energy prices. Continued low prices or further declines in the crude oil and wholesale gasoline markets could have a negative impact on the market price of ethanol and our profitability particularly if domestic ethanol stocks remain high. Ethanol exports have provided support for ethanol prices, especially as domestic ethanol stocks have grown. However, a decrease in U.S. ethanol exports due to the premium on the price of ethanol as compared to unleaded gasoline, the strength of the U.S. dollar and/or other factors could contribute to higher ethanol stocks. If domestic ethanol stocks grow, further decreases in domestic ethanol prices may result unless additional demand from domestic discretionary blending or other foreign markets develop.  

 

In November 2016, the EPA issued its final renewable volume obligations for 2017, revising the levels proposed in its May 2016 draft rule to match the statutory renewable volume obligations under the RFS. Management anticipates that ethanol prices will remain steady during our 2017 fiscal year as a result of the 2017 renewable volume obligations number matching the RFS statutory RVOs.

 

We occasionally engage in hedging activities with respect to our ethanol sales. We recognize the gains or losses that result from the changes in the value of these derivative instruments in revenues as the changes occur. As ethanol prices fluctuate, the value of our derivative instruments are impacted, which affects our financial performance. These ethanol derivative instruments resulted in a loss of approximately $159,000 during the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, which decreased our revenue.  In comparison, during the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015, we had no gains or losses on our ethanol derivative instruments.

 

Distillers’ Grains

 

Total revenues from sales of distillers’ grains decreased approximately 21.3% for fiscal year 2016 compared to fiscal year 2015.  The decline in distillers' grains revenues is primarily attributable to an approximately 17.5% decrease in the average price per ton we received for our distillers’ grains from period to period. The effect of the decrease in average distillers’ grains price was compounded by an approximately 4.5% decrease in the tons of distillers’ grains sold during fiscal year 2016 compared to fiscal year 2015.  We sold less total tons of distillers’ grains during our 2016 fiscal year compared to the same period of 2015 due to increased efficiencies of converting corn into ethanol which leads to less production of co-products such as distillers’ grains. We also increased the amount of corn oil we were extracting from our distillers’ grains during our 2016 fiscal year which reduced the total tons of distillers’ grains we had available for sale. Management anticipates relatively stable distillers’ grains production during our 2017 fiscal year as we anticipate a comparable amount of ethanol production during our 2017 fiscal year.

 

Management attributes the decline in the market price of distillers’ grains primarily to increased supplies of corn and soybeans resulting in lower market grain prices and reduced domestic demand during fiscal year 2016 as compared to fiscal year 2015. Since distillers’ grains are primarily used as a feed substitute for corn and soybean meal, when corn and soybean supplies increase, the prices of these competing products decrease, negatively impacts distillers’ grains demand and prices. For the last half, distillers’ grains traded at discount compared to a comparable amount of corn.  Management anticipates distillers’ grains will continue to trade at a significant discount compared to the price of corn due to anticipated strong corn supplies and relatively stable demand. However, domestic prices for distillers’ grains could decrease if end-users switch to lower priced alternatives reducing the domestic demand for distillers’ grains.

 

Additionally, export demand for distillers’ grains was reduced in fiscal year 2016 compared to fiscal year 2015, particularly in the last quarter of 2016. Weaker export demand in fiscal year 2016 is largely attributable to imports of dried distillers’ grains by China, historically the world’s largest buyer of domestic distillers’ grains. In January 2016, China opened anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations into distillers’ grains produced in the U.S. On September 23, 2016, the Chinese government instituted preliminary anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties on all distillers’ grains produced in the United States and exported to China. On January 10, 2017, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced its final ruling, significantly increasing the anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties imposed in September 2016. Since this trade dispute commenced in January 2016, distillers’ grains exports to China have been diminished, falling significantly since the September announcement of the imposition of trade duties.  While we expect China to continue to import some distillers’ grains, we do not anticipate that imports will be at the same level as previous years.  Further decrease in export demand for distillers’ grains from China could continue to negatively impact market distillers’ grains demand and prices unless additional demand can be created from other foreign markets or domestically.

 

40


 

Corn Oil

 

Total revenues from sales of corn oil increased by approximately 45.7% for fiscal year 2016 compared to the fiscal year 2015. This increase is attributable to an approximately 46.3% increase in pounds sold during fiscal year 2016 compared to fiscal year 2015 as the average price we received per pound of corn oil sold from period to period was relatively unchanged, decreasing approximately 0.4%. 

 

During much of fiscal year 2016, corn oil prices were impacted by consistent oversupply and lower corn and soybean oil prices, products that typically compete with corn oil.  Corn oil is used primarily as animal feed, for certain industrial uses and for biodiesel production. Management anticipates continued lower corn oil prices due to higher corn oil supplies. Biodiesel production has benefited from the passage of the biodiesel blenders' tax credit in recent years which management believes has positively impacted corn oil demand. However, the biodiesel blenders' tax credit expired on December 31, 2016 which could negatively impact corn oil demand and prices during our 2017 fiscal year if not retroactively renewed. Management anticipates lower corn oil prices unless additional demand can be created.

 

Cost of Goods Sold

 

Our cost of goods sold decreased by approximately 4.8% for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, as compared to the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015. Our cost of goods sold as a percentage of revenues increased slightly to approximately 92.2% for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, as compared to approximately 90.2% for the 2015 fiscal year due to the narrowing of the margin between the price of ethanol and the price of corn.  Approximately 90% of our total costs of goods sold is attributable to ethanol production. As a result, the cost of goods sold per gallon of ethanol produced for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016 was approximately $1.41 per gallon of ethanol sold compared to approximately $1.51 per gallon of ethanol produced for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015. 

 

The following table shows the costs of corn and natural gas (our two largest single components of costs of goods sold), as well as all other components of cost of goods sold, which includes processing ingredients, electricity, and wages, salaries and benefits of production personnel, and the approximate percentage of costs of those components to total costs of goods sold in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended  October 31, 2016

 

 

Cost

    

% of Cost of Goods Sold

Corn costs

 

$

147,084

 

74.1

%

Natural gas costs

 

 

10,227

 

5.1

%

All other components of costs of goods sold

 

 

41,316

 

20.8

%

Total Cost of Goods Sold

 

$

198,627

 

100.0

%

 

The following table shows the costs of corn, natural gas and all other components of cost of goods sold and the approximate percentage of costs of those components to total costs of goods sold in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year Ended  October 31, 2015

 

 

Cost

    

% of Cost of Goods Sold

Corn costs

 

$

153,379

 

73.5

%

Natural gas costs

 

 

13,994

 

6.7

%

All other components of costs of goods sold

 

 

41,281

 

19.8

%

Total Cost of Goods Sold

 

$

208,654

 

100.0

%

 

Corn Costs

 

Our cost of goods sold related to corn decreased approximately 4.6% less for our 2016 fiscal year compared to our 2015 fiscal year, due primarily to decrease of 4.9% in the average price per bushel paid for corn from period to period, despite a 0.9% increase in the number of bushels of corn processed. The corn-ethanol price spread (the difference between the price per gallon of ethanol and the price per bushel of grain divided by 2.8) for our 2016 fiscal year was approximately $0.03 narrower than the corn-ethanol price spread we experienced for same period of 2015.

41


 

The decrease in our cost per bushel of corn was primarily related to lower market corn prices due to increased market corn supplies by the strong corn harvest in the fall of 2015, resulting in a sufficient local supply of corn to the market and relatively lower corn demand. Corn prices have remained steady moving into fiscal year 2017 due to the large corn crop harvested in the fall of 2016. Management anticipates that corn supplies will remain favorable during our 2017 fiscal year which should result in relatively stable corn prices. These lower corn prices could impact the amount of corn which is planted during 2017 which could result in higher corn prices later in our 2017 fiscal year. However, since other commodity prices are lower, the lower corn prices may not significantly impact farmer planting decisions.

 

For our fiscal years ended October 31, 2016 and 2015, our plants processed approximately 43.4 million and 43.0 million bushels of corn, respectively.  We were able to improve our corn conversion efficiency slightly during our 2016 fiscal year compared to 2015 which allowed us to produce more ethanol per bushel of corn. Management anticipates consistent corn consumption during our 2017 fiscal year compared to our 2016 fiscal year provided that we can maintain positive operating margins that allow us to continue to operate the ethanol plants at capacity.

 

From time to time we enter into forward purchase contracts for our corn purchases.  At October 31, 2016, GFE had forward corn purchase contracts for approximately 5.2 million bushels, comprised of long corn positions on 3.3 million bushels, and short corn positions on 1.9 million bushels, for various delivery periods through August 2017. Comparatively at October 31, 2015, we had forward corn purchase contracts for approximately 2.6 million bushels for various delivery periods through December 2016, comprised of approximately 740,000 and 1.9 million bushels held by GFE and HLBE, respectively.

 

Our corn derivative positions resulted in gains of approximately $708,000 and $304,000 for the fiscal years ended October 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively, which decreased cost of goods sold. We recognize the gains or losses that result from the changes in the value of our derivative instruments from corn in cost of goods sold as the changes occur.  As corn prices fluctuate, the value of our derivative instruments are impacted, which affects our financial performance. We anticipate continued volatility in our cost of goods sold due to the timing of the changes in value of the derivative instruments relative to the cost and use of the commodity being hedged. 

 

Natural Gas Costs

 

For our 2016 fiscal year, we experienced a decrease of approximately 26.9% in our overall natural gas costs compared to our 2015 fiscal year.  The decrease in natural gas costs was primarily due lower natural gas prices due to ample supply.  Management anticipates that natural gas prices will hold steady and may even decrease slightly throughout our 2017 fiscal year.  However, if we experience an exceptionally cold and long winter during our 2017 fiscal year, management anticipates that we may experience increases in natural gas prices. Our natural gas consumption during fiscal year 2016 was slightly higher compared to fiscal year 2015 due to increased production at our plants.

 

From time to time we enter into forward purchase contracts for our natural gas purchases. Our natural gas derivative positions resulted in a gain of approximately $33,000 for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, which decreased cost of goods sold. Comparatively, we had no gain or loss on natural gas derivative instruments during the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015. We recognize the gains or losses that result from the changes in the value of our derivative instruments from natural gas in cost of goods sold as the changes occur.

 

Operating Expense

 

Operating expenses include wages, salaries and benefits of administrative employees at the plants, insurance, professional fees and similar costs.  Operating expenses as a percentage of revenues rose slightly to 2.5% of revenues for our fiscal year ended October 31, 2016 compared to 2.2% of revenues for our fiscal year ended October 31, 2015.  This increase is due primarily to decreased revenues in fiscal year 2016. Our efforts to optimize efficiencies and maximize production may result in a decrease in our operating expenses on a per gallon basis. However, because these expenses generally do not vary with the level of production at the plants, we expect our operating expenses to remain steady into and throughout our 2017 fiscal year.

 

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Operating Income

 

For our fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, we reported operating income of approximately $11.6 million and for our fiscal year ended October 31, 2015, we had operating income of approximately $17.4 million. This decrease resulted largely from decreased prices for our ethanol and its co-products and the narrowing of our net operating margin

 

Other Expense, Net

 

We had total other expense, net for our fiscal year ended October 31, 2016 of approximately $345,000 compared to total other expense, net of approximately $478,000 for our fiscal year ended October 31, 2015. This decrease in other expenses is primarily due to a decrease in interest expense during our fiscal year ended October 31, 2016, compared to the same period of 2015 due to decreased borrowings on HLBE credit facilities. We also had an increase of approximately $62,000 in miscellaneous income for fiscal year 2016 as compared to fiscal year 2015.

 

Results of Operations for the Fiscal Years Ended October 31, 2015 and 2014 

 

The following table shows the results of our operations and the percentage of revenues, cost of goods sold, operating expenses and other items to total revenues in our audited consolidated  statements of operations for the fiscal years ended October 31, 2015 and 2014 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year EndedOctober 31, 

 

 

2015

 

2014

Income Statement Data

    

Amount

    

%  

 

Amount

    

%  

Revenue

 

$

231,255

 

100.0

%  

 

$

300,955

 

100.0

%

Cost of Goods Sold

 

 

208,654

 

90.2

%  

 

 

237,434

 

78.9

%

Gross Profit

 

 

22,601

 

9.8

%  

 

 

63,521

 

21.1

%

Operating Expenses

 

 

5,176

 

2.2

%  

 

 

5,151

 

1.7

%

Operating Income

 

 

17,425

 

7.6

%  

 

 

58,370

 

19.4

%

Other Income (Expense), net

 

 

(478)

 

0.2

%  

 

 

720

 

0.2

%

Net Income

 

 

16,947

 

7.4

%  

 

 

59,090

 

19.6

%

Less: Net Income Attributable to Non-controlling Interest

 

 

3,360

 

1.5

%  

 

 

10,317

 

3.4

%

Net Income Attributable to Granite Falls Energy, LLC

 

$

13,587

 

5.9

%  

 

$

48,773

 

16.2

%

 

Revenues

 

For the fiscal years ended October 31, 2015 and 2014, our revenues came from sales of our three primary products: ethanol, distillers’ grains and corn oil. We also had miscellaneous other revenues attributable to incidental sales of corn syrup and Agrinatural revenues (net of eliminations). The following table shows the sources of our consolidated revenue and the approximate percentage of revenues from those sources to total revenues in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2015 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year Ended October 31, 2015

Revenue Sources

 

Sales Revenue

    

% of Total Revenues

Ethanol sales

 

$

180,472

 

78.0

%

Distillers' grains sales

 

 

43,181

 

18.7

%

Corn oil sales

 

 

6,131

 

2.7

%

Miscellaneous other

 

 

1,471

 

0.6

%

Total Revenues

 

$

231,255

 

100.0

%

 

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The following table shows the sources of our consolidated revenue and the approximate percentage of revenues from those sources to total revenues in our audited consolidated statements of operations for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2014 (amounts in thousands):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fiscal Year Ended October 31, 2014

Revenue Sources

 

Sales Revenue

    

% of Total Revenues

Ethanol sales

 

$

241,095

 

80.1

%