Broin Tops the List as Brave Thinker

July 30, 2013 11:10 PM
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Jeff Broin, POET’s founder, earned Top Producer’s Readers’ Choice Award as having the biggest impact during the last 30 years.

POET ethanol founder earns our Reader’s Choice Award

There are many faces behind the success of the ethanol industry and its related impact on ag—creating corn demand of nearly 5 billion bushels and boosting farm profits in the process. However, one man who has clearly played a definitive role is Jeff Broin, POET founder and board chairman.

Broin is recognized as the Brave Thinker who has had the biggest impact on agriculture during the last 30 years, as voted by Top Producer readers. As part of the magazine’s anniversary celebration, 30 brave thinkers were spotlighted in the April issue.

It’s not just farmers and the ethanol industry who recognize Broin’s contribution. This spring, Hall of Fame recording artist Neil Young visited POET in Sioux Falls, S.D., to fill up with cellulosic ethanol during a cross-country road trip in his converted 1959 Lincoln Continental.

Broin credits values and skills, such as the ability to find solutions to problems and to develop creative and cost-effective processes, directly to growing up on a Kenyon, Minn., farm. Those skills helped him bring the initial company that later became POET from its infancy in 1986 to vie with Archer Daniels Midland some years as the nation’s largest ethanol producer.

The beginnings of POET and Broin were humble and started with his father, Lowell Broin. "Corn prices were $1.30 per bushel that cost $2.60 to make, and we were paid by the government to take land out of production," Broin says. "My father could not allow good, productive land to sit idle." So Lowell built a small, farm-scale ethanol plant on the family’s property, where they could make their own fuel. It was energy independence on a micro-scale, and it planted the seeds of what was to come.

The future for Jeff Broin and POET got their jump-start in 1987, when the family mortgaged the farm to purchase a closed 1-million-gallon plant in Scotland, S.D. Broin, 22 and fresh out of college, began as the plant’s general manager. He even lived at the plant to save money, while it was upgraded.

Over time, Broin began buying and building plants in other states. Today, POET owns 27 plants—mostly in partnership with farmer-investors—in seven states, producing 1.7 billion gallons of ethanol, 9 billion pounds of animal feed and corn oil for biodiesel plants. A diversified company, POET comprises 50 different LLCs.

Push Points. Broin, still a youthful 47 and proud of POET’s accomplishments, is more focused on the future than ever. As co-chairman of Growth Energy, an ethanol trade group, much of his time is spent fighting what he calls "Big Oil" over its attempt to roll back the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS).

"This is an attack not just on the ethanol industry, but on agriculture," Broin says, noting that the stakes are high. "Without further growth of biofuel blends beyond the present 10% that the RFS calls for, crop prices will decline, and farm profits will evaporate."

As for the future of biofuels, Broin is helping foster the production of cellulosic ethanol, a critical piece of POET’s future growth plans, through a joint venture with the Dutch company, DSM. "We’ll use 770 tons of biomass per day," Broin says.

Read the 30 Brave Thinkers article featured in the Anniversary Issue released in April at

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