5.29.2013 | printed in the Spring 2013 issue of VITAL magazine
“It had to be somebody who’d plow deep and straight… and not cut corners. Somebody to seed and weed, feed and breed…and rake and disc and plow and plant and tie the fleece and strain the milk,” Harvey said. And our minds went back to our childhoods, to our parents, to our grandparents.
So, this winter when Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack said to a group of farmers in Washington, D.C. that rural America was losing influence, it cut deep. He’s not wrong. This is something that everyone in the Midwest should be concerned about, and we need to turn it around.
I grew up in rural Minnesota surrounded by some of the best black earth on the planet. Although it paled in comparison to today’s yields, we were getting about 130 bushels of corn per acre. But since supply had out-paced demand, we still had too much grain. So much in fact, the government paid us and other farmers to set aside acres of land and not produce. I’m sure many of you also remember that at the same time the government was also paying farmers to store excess grain. It’s no wonder rural America started to dwindle. And this wasn’t limited to the U.S. Our subsidized grain was being dumped into other countries at prices below their cost of production and effectively putting their farmers out of business. This forced farmers all around the world to move into already over-populated cities for low-paying jobs.
But as the ethanol industry started to grow, a new market was created balancing supply and demand. Previously tilled acres that had gone fallow came back into production. Investments in research to increase yields took off. My family was now getting 180 – 200 bushels of corn per acre on that same ground. Farming was profitable again, and rural America was becoming stronger.
Ethanol brought U.S. agriculture back to prominence and I believe ethanol is the only way to keep it there. It has created profitable markets for dozens of developing countries and millions of farmers worldwide. We’ve realized more and more over the last few years how ethanol and agriculture are joined at the hip. If the ethanol industry is not allowed to grow, we will return to grain prices below the cost of production and a depressed ag economy all around the world. The everexpanding yields of corn and improved agricultural practices will have nowhere to go.
It is critical to the agriculture and ethanol industries, the Midwest and our nation, that higher blends of ethanol are allowed into the market. Without new demand for ethanol, world expansion of grain production will stop and reverse, ethanol prices will remain low and oil prices will continue to rise for the foreseeable future. So, yes, rural America may be losing influence. But it’s not a trend that has to continue. With higher blends of ethanol and access to the market, we can continue to strengthen economies throughout the Midwest and around the globe. And as the Paul Harvey poem reminded us, whether you have an agriculture background or not, farming is a part of all of our lives.
“And who, planting time and harvest season, will finish his forty-hour week by Tuesday noon, then, pain’n from ‘tractor back,’ put in another seventy-two hours.” Farmers aren’t exactly the type to give up easily. And neither are we.
Other Stories in this collection:
In Sight: So God made a farmer.
by Jeff Broin, Executive Chairman and Founder of POET