By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — With last year’s disastrous corn crop, coupled with an equally disastrous attempt by Congress to pass a farm bill, the outcry to halt the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has become louder than normal.
The federal mandate that requires a certain amount of transportation fuel to be from renewable sources has been embraced by organizations such as the National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA) and loathed by groups such as the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed an increase in the amount of biofuel required by the RFS. The EWG said in a statement a major overhaul of U.S. biofuel policy is needed, and “with U.S. demand for gasoline shrinking and advanced biofuels still commercially unavailable, the requirement will divert more food and animal feed to make biofuels, harming consumers and forcing farmers and livestock producers out of business.”
EWG Vice President for Government Affairs Scott Faber said pumping more corn ethanol into an already saturated market hasn’t helped address the country’s energy needs, nor has it spurred development of advanced biofuel. “In fact, the opposite is true. The corn ethanol mandate hurts families struggling to pay their grocery bills, stifles competition and wreaks havoc on our rivers, lakes and streams,” he said.
“It’s a raw deal for consumers, motorists and taxpayers, but a boon to a handful of special interests. Until the Renewable Fuel Standard is reformed, Americans will continue to suffer the consequences of this misguided policy.”
A new coalition of pro-RFS organizations called Fuels America sees things in a different way. The group states the RFS has “helped domestic, renewable transportation fuel strengthen America’s rural economies and communities, and has spurred billions of dollars of investment in new technology for advanced and conventional renewable fuel.”
The coalition has a long list of members, including DuPont, the Renewable Fuels Assoc. (RFA), the NCGA, the National Farmers Union and the National Assoc. of Wheat Growers. NCGA CEO Rick Tolman said in a recent panel discussion the importance of the RFS cannot be underestimated.
“It cut imported oil and serves as the basis for investment in infrastructure growth. It’s the single biggest reason for the prosperity across all of agriculture, since its inception,” he said. “It also has lowered fuel costs for consumers and created hundreds of thousands of jobs across America.”
Closer to home, the Kentucky Corn Growers Assoc. President Ray Allan Mackey said the relationship between the ethanol industry and corn growers has been a great success story.
“It’s brought new energy into the farm economy and allowed young people to come back to the farm or stay on the farm because of its effect on grain prices,” he said. “And it brings us into the world economy and brings us into the household economy of every person, as they spend money on gasoline.”
Mackey said he realizes corn is used for food and livestock feed and ethanol is in competition for those uses. “But farmers have probably increased production by 20 percent over the last several years. We’re growing a bigger crop, we’re producing more markets and we are producing a renewable product that adds to the economy,” he said.
The drought of 2012 cut into projected yields for the corn crop, something Mackey said is coped with by a sound risk management system such as crop insurance to safeguard farm incomes – at least to cover the cost of inputs so loans can be repaid and another crop planted in the coming year.
During a presentation at the RFA’s National Ethanol Conference, Tolman said, “The United States leads the world in biofuel production. It’s had a positive impact on our GDP (gross domestic product) at the same time it’s created jobs and helped clear the air.”
Mackey said the United States has come a long way in producing ethanol and the building of an industry around a renewable fuel.
“Some would have us to pull up stakes and throw in the towel and turn our backs on this industry,” he said. “Farmers realize they are in a world market and they have to compete with the world, so we need every market available that we can find and promote, and ethanol is one of them.”
When it comes to producing all the corn needed, Mackey added, “We’ve not failed yet. A lot is somewhat out of our control and we depend on our creator to provide adequate rainfall and good seasons, but the American spirit is very, very strong in the farming world today and we plan on producing bigger and bigger crops to take care of all our customers.”