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Guebert: American agriculture's Great Carbon Boondoggle, Part 2

January 5, 2023
Lincoln Journal Star

By Alan Guebert for the Telegraph Herald

Bruce Rastetter, Iowa’s longtime agricultural and political power center, has a sixth sense when it comes to making money.

In 1984, according to the Des Moines Register, Rastetter “started feeding hogs on contract … and within two years, 500 head grew to 100,000.” A decade later, his Heartland Pork was the 12th largest hog farm in the U.S.

Ten years after that, with Heartland wallowing in debt and low prices, Rastetter sold it and moved on to ethanol. His timing was nearly perfect; the federal government’s Renewable Fuel Standard was about to ignite a massive ethanol boom.

Later, as that biofuel boom faded, “Rastetter … worked out a deal with Thomas H. Lee Partners,” reported the Register in 2015, “which bought 80% of Hawkeye Holdings” -- Rastetter’s ethanol company -- “investing $312 million …”

Soon, Rastettter began investing in global ag and local politicians. Today he’s a top collector of both: His Summit Agricultural Group reportedly controls 14,000 acres in Iowa, owns several livestock operations and “ethanol businesses in Brazil,” and has “spent millions on federal, state and local politics over the past two decades,” notes the Register.

The latter is important given Summit’s current focus, a 2,000-mile, $4.5 billion carbon pipeline to link more than 30 “biorefineries” in five Midwestern states to gather, then deliver, pressurized CO2 to “deep geologic storage locations” in North Dakota.

But not even Rastetter has deep-enough pockets to bankroll this pipe dream. Enter his network of politicians and investors.

As highlighted here last week and according to a November report published by the Oakland Institute, a California-based think tank, Summit’s payroll includes General Counsel Jess Vilsack, the son of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Summit’s “chief policy officer” is Terry Branstad, Iowa’s longtime former governor.

A May 2022 Securities and Exchange Commission filing, highlighted by Oakland, lists the biggest investors in the Midwest Carbon Express, Summit’s cheeky name for its pipeline. They include TPG Rise Climate Fund ($300 million), Continental Resources ($250 million), SK E&S ($110 million), Tiger Infrastructure ($100 million) and Deere & Co., the farm equipment giant whose “size of its ‘strategic investment’ ... remains unknown.”