Holding the Thin Green Line

(excerpt from an article “Agriculture will drive U.S. recovery” by former US House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest)

U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, and retired general and NATO Commander Wesley Clark, a Democrat, have something in common. They see America’s farmers and ranchers as a “thin green line” that we must hold.

Both point to a Federal Reserve paper that says U.S. agriculture is driving economic recovery. Both underscore the role food plays in our national security. And both alert us to an ominous reality: Earth will hold 9 billion people within 40 years, many of whom will go hungry unless our farmers and ranchers double production.

Armed with these facts, one would think Washington would work overtime to promote a positive business environment in which American agriculture can unleash its full production potential.

Instead, as Lucas notes, there are no fewer than 10 new regulatory assaults being waged upon the American farmer and rancher today, threatening to bog down producers with higher costs, burdensome paperwork and legal uncertainty.

On energy policy, too, Washington continues to vacillate between inaction on one hand and contradictory policies on the other. Lawmakers should work toward a consistent, focused and ambitious agenda that uses every tool available to promote greater domestic production – which in the short run might help arrest today’s spiking energy costs that hit American agriculture hard, and in the long run promotes our energy independence from thugs like Moammar Gadhafi and Hugo Chavez.

Our Take:
Energy and Agriculture policies need to work in concert–the right combination will support American farmers’ ability to feed the world while gaining American energy independence and ethanol plays a key part in this that is not well understood. Except by crop farmers. They know that farm-based energy production has been the most successful program ever for strengthening the market for major crops.

A presentation by a Pro-Exporter analyst at the 2011 MN Ag EXPO pointed to the bottom-line truth: in order to feed the expected 9.2 billion people on earth in 2050, global agriculture must grow is productivity by 1.7 percent. Every year for the next 40 years. Our trend line has been 1.4 percent growth, he said. Even that won’t cut it. We need to kick it into even higher gear. He was optimistic on that note, and so are we. It can be done. But marshaling the resources of science, technology and production on every American farm means creating policies that support our farmers and support value-added agricultural enterprise like ethanol. It may be counterintuitive, but it is the energy market for corn that has spurred a great deal of the increased productivity. And let’s not forget that ethanol producers are also food producers. Experts calculate that the high protein-high oil feed product called distillers grains returns as much as 50 percent of the food value of the corn used to produce ethanol to the livestock industry. So as the ethanol has boomed, and farmers have been more productive, the amount of food produced through American farming has increased. With the kind of support Lucas and Clark are talking about, farmers can meet the 1.7 percent increase in productivity and provide a growing portion of our transportation fuel needs.

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