Growers make the case for passing a new farm bill, and keeping RFS

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

NCGA Corn Congress, held in Washington DC in July each year, is always an occasion for Minnesota growers to meet legislators and continue the conversation about what will help midwestern farmers keep the American system of raising food the envy of the world: an overwhelmingly safe supply of food available in every region at reasonable prices.

The two political issues that will impact U.S. food production the most in 2012 are a successful conclusion to the drive to pass a Farm Bill, and one of the chief agenda items for corn growers and ethanol producers–keeping the Renewable Fuels Standard intact, and allowing its built-in mechanisms to deal with issues of grain supply.

The 17 Minnesota growers met with the entire Minnesota delegate to Congress, as well as many members of the House Agriculture Committee.

“We told congress members we need to keep the RFS intact, let it work, it’s got provisions designed to handle scenarios like this,” said John Mages, a corn producer in Belgrade, Minnesota, and president of Minnesota Corn Growers Association. “RFS demands that so much ethanol be used each year. It’s important to remember that, at the beginning of the year, there was a lot of ethanol in surplus, also there is a credit called RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers) that the fuel blenders can use in the place of actual ethanol. Between those things we may be able to meet all the market demand. It’s important also to wait and see exactly how much corn we produce before the government resorts to drastic changes. One message we’ve been bringing to lawmakers is that once there’s a cut back on the mandate, it will be very hard to get back what’s been given it up. So we want to keep it going.”

Among those new to the process of visiting congress people in Washington and carrying the farmer message, were MCGA director Les Anderson and Anna Bellin, MCGA’s new policy director.

“Our message was straightforward,” said Bellin. “We want to get it done. Don’t mess with the RFS, because the market is working. It is easy to blame ethanol for the problems being caused by the drought, but we should be careful not to take apart energy policy that’s just beginning to deliver energy independence–let’s see what the actual corn production is.”

The grower leaders found the lawmakers receptive and supportive of the idea of getting a farm bill passed this year. The Senate has passed a version and now it is up to the House of Representatives.

The whole thing gets tied up in election year politics,” said Bellin. “Members of the ag committee were generally supportive of getting it done, but it comes down to being a leadership decision. A large part of the farm bill is nutrition program spending and that’s getting all tied up in debates about budget cutting.”

Whatever else gets done regarding farm policy, it appears likely that some kind of disaster program for livestock producers will pass, either as part of a regular farm bill, or failing that, as a stand alone extension.

But the farm program is an essential element — without it, farmers cannot plan for the coming crop year.

“Without a farm bill in place I don’t know a single banker that would make a loan to a farmer,” said Lori Feltis, a producer in Stewartville and a representative to the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

However, success will require an eye to timing.

“It was our effort during our Washington visit to put as much pressure on the House to get it done as we could,” Bellin said. “Congressman Collin Peterson has been extremely supportive of getting it done. He is doing whatever he can to get it across the finish line and we really appreciate it. It’s our intent to keep the pressure on, but there’s also a delicate balance–while we are trying to get it done as quickly as possible, we also want to make sure the votes are there when it comes to a vote.”

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