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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, February 26, 2017 10:00 pm

Fueling comeback of agriculture

Jeff Broin

Agriculture is suffering, and it’s only a matter of time before we all feel the repercussions.

If we don’t fight, if we allow this to happen, this crisis will not only affect Indiana farmers but will cause a ripple effect throughout the Midwest, our cities and our entire nation.

Plummeting farm income, falling land values and depressed commodity prices over the last few years threaten to undo the prosperity of the previous decade.

All indicators point to farms in trouble.

• Net farm income is projected to be down nearly 50 percent this year after four straight years of decline since 2013.

• Indiana cropland value has dropped 13.4 percent since 2013, according to Purdue University, and crop surpluses threaten to erode that value further in the future.

• The Kansas City Fed reports a "growing sense of risk in the farm sector" leading to higher interest rates and demands of farm real estate as collateral on short-term operating loans.

We do not have to face the kind of crisis rural America suffered in the 1980s.

A market for our commodities exists that can benefit not only farmers and rural areas, but every American driver. Biofuels like ethanol are the solution.

When the buildout of ethanol infrastructure happened in the 2000s, all the metrics for agricultural success shot up. New records in farm income prompted investment in agriculture, and as a result we’ve seen more efficiency in farming and higher grain yields than ever before, both trends that continue to improve.

Every American reaps the benefits of these investments in agriculture.

Those higher yields and greater efficiency have been a blessing and a curse as today we see an oversupply of commodities that have depressed prices. Because the U.S. role in ag exports has diminished as other nations grow their own production, to balance our grain supplies we need a growing market. Biofuels supply that.

In November, the EPA made a sound decision to fully enforce the Renewable Fuel Standard and improve options for American-made biofuels at the pump. That commitment must remain strong as a new Congress takes over this year. We must grow consumers’ access to E15 – a 15 percent ethanol blend – by removing arbitrary restrictions during the summer driving season. E15 could provide a market for up to 2 billion bushels of corn to stabilize commodity prices. Every time a new E15 pump is installed, I hear reports that it is a top seller, providing great performance at an affordable price.

American agriculture has helped us improve our national security, lower fuel prices and heal our environment by providing the feedstock for homegrown biofuels. We can do more, and we must do more, for the sake of not only rural areas, but all of America.