4.19.2017 | printed in the Spring 2017 issue of VITAL magazine
I’d like to start with a look back at a rather historic quote:
“For all our nostalgia for the traditional family farm, we are near to bidding farewell to it as a significant institution in American life. We’re on the verge of another big shake-out in U.S. agriculture, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 25 years. Caught between sagging prices for their products and rising debt, tens of thousands of farm families face almost certain foreclosure; and in Midwestern states like Iowa and Nebraska, farm bankruptcies threaten dozens of banks, hundreds of farm equipment suppliers and the economic health of entire rural communities.”
This quote comes from an opinion piece in The Washington Post — from 1985.
Although this passage is more than 30 years old, I believe it defines the environment agriculture is facing today. It reminds me of the decisions my own father faced in the 1980s on our farm near Wanamingo, Minn. Frustrated with letting fertile land lay idle, my dad turned that frustration into passion for a new unforeseen opportunity — biofuels.
The decision to start a distillery on our family farm soon led my dad to Scotland, S.D., to bid on used equipment to bring back to the farm. Instead of buying parts, he called me to say he bought an entire plant for only $72,000. It wasn’t long before he asked me to move to Scotland and manage that very plant. Thirty years have passed since that decision was made, and we haven’t looked back.
We quickly went to work renovating the bankrupt Scotland plant into a 24/7 biorefinery. During this time, we also partnered with thousands of farmers to build dozen of plants across the Midwest and established marketing divisions for ethanol, DDGS and other coproducts. When the time came for me to take my family name off the door in 2007, POET had become a leader — in the biofuels industry, in developing new technologies, and in Washington, D.C. We continue to lead this industry today.
We look forward to celebrating POET’s 30-year anniversary and honoring our history throughout 2017. I believe POET, our industry and agriculture as a whole have a real opportunity to take the lessons we have learned from our past and use that knowledge to brighten our future. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story about the next American farm bust, stating: “Across the heartland, a multiyear slump in prices for corn, wheat and other farm commodities brought on by a glut of grain world-wide is pushing many farmers further into debt. Some are shutting down, raising concerns that the next few years could bring the biggest wave of farm closures since the 1980s.”
When we compare 2017 with 1987, we know ethanol needs a larger percentage of Americans’ gas tanks to solve this farm crisis. We need you — our farmers, our consumers and Rural America — to join us in making this message loud and clear in our states and on Capitol Hill. We’ve had a lot of victories and accomplishments over the past 30 years, but I’m even more excited about all the opportunities that lie ahead if we join together to let our collective voice be heard. Our work begins today!
Other Stories in this collection:
In Sight: 30 Years of Changing the World
by Jeff Broin, Executive Chairman and CEO of POET