September 1, 2006
By Bobby Horecka
A Texas grocer's vision to offer customers more options at the gas pumps will allow farmers to do something they've never been able to do before in the Lone Star State.
Three press conferences were held at five of the H-E-B store locations the day of the unveiling of E-85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline)Schertz, North Austin and Bellmead near Wacoall featuring politicos, store officials, and of course, farmers from the Texas Farm Bureau who stood the most to gain with the introduction of ethanol into the state's fuel lines.
But it was the slogan on the golden caps worn by those who drive tractors for a living who attended the Aug. 16 unveiling of all-new E-85 ethanol pumps at five H-E-B locations along the Interstate 35 corridor that said it best.
"Farmers Fueling Texas."
"This will provide us an all new market for the grains we grow," said Lamar Weiss, a corn, wheat and hay grower from Pflugerville.
All the corn he raises now is destined for feedlots, poultry farms and the like, he said, but with ethanol outlets now available in Texas, the opportunities are endless.
"It'll help everybody," Weiss said. "It will cut down some on the cost of gasoline and keep us from being dependent on foreign oil. It'll make more jobs for people in our local communities. It'll cut down on pollution and make the environment better, and for us who farm, it'll help us get rid of our grains better and get better prices."
Buda and Killeen were the other two sites, all situated along I-35. And with initial prices 40 cents cheaper than the typical Texas fill up, customers were ready to make use of the new fuel blend.
"My wife and I already have the locations mapped, and we're excited by the opportunity to help our American farmers," said James Roberts of Round Rock, a customer who arrived at the unveiling in Austin ready to fill his SUV.
"It's the best choice for us right now," he said, adding when you consider it costs $75 to fill his vehicle, he felt much better about the money going to help a farmer than some foreign oil company. "Plus, it helps our environment."
H-E-B began discussing adding ethanol a few months ago, said spokesman Leslie Lockett. And after weighing all the benefits, they decided to offer the options at the pump.
"We're excited any time H-E-B can buy from local Texas farmers, and we look forward to growing (the ethanol infrastructure) in Texas," she said, challenging other retailers in the state to follow suit.
H-E-B has committed to offer the new fuel blend at least 30 cents cheaper than traditional gasoline blends. In addition to ethanol getting slightly less gallons per mile than straight gasoline, store officials said they wanted to ensure ethanol a firm footing in the products they offer.
And with new plants, such as one slated for construction in Temple, under way across Texas, the hope remains that Texas production facilities manned with Texas employees using Texas farm products will soon supply Texas ethanol pumps, Lockett said.
"All that can happen very soon, now that H-E-B has taken this pioneering first step," said Marc Scott, a McLennan County rancher who attended the events near Waco. "Biofuels can be an important part of the energy independence of America. Texas has been behind in ethanolnow we're in the game. We will look back on this day as something very important to Texas."