Brittany Patterson

Down bumpy back roads deep in central West Virginia, a flat, bright green pasture opens up among the rolling hills of coffee-colored trees.

Wildflowers and butterflies dot the pasture, but West Virginia University Professor Jeff Skousen is here for something else that stands above the rest of the Appalachian scenery – literally.

Thick stalks of green-yellowish grass reach up ten feet into the air like a beanstalk out of a fairy tale, and Skousen is dwarfed by it.

Liam Niemeyer

Mick Henderson runs the Commonwealth Agri-Energy ethanol plant in western Kentucky. He said the past year for U.S. ethanol producers, including in the Ohio Valley, has been rough.

“We’ve just passed our 15th anniversary just now, and this is going to be one of our weakest years,” Henderson said.

Ethanol prices have been down the past year because supply of the grain-based fuel is at a record high. Retaliatory tariffs on corn from countries like China have also hurt prices because corn and grain targeted by tariffs are used by ethanol plants.