E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


America's farmers have been and will be part of the energy solution

by Larry Mitchell
CEO American Corn Growers Association

(Tuesday, March 30, 2004 -- CropChoice guest commentary) --Congress comes back to Washington this week and many hope it will finally address the pending energy bill, or at least move toward solving many of the nation's energy problems. One component of the solution to our energy needs can be found on America's farms. This element, once the main source of the nation's energy needs, is today often overlooked and misrepresented. It is time to review where we have been and where we can go.

In the early part of the last century, our nation utilized a farm-based power system as its main source of energy. Most farms used over half of its production to fuel its own energy needs. This was done by the use of horse, mule and other animal power. It usually took over half of the farm's production to feed these animals. Farms were also much more labor intensive, and the food to feed that labor force was also raised right on the farm. The water for the farm was most likely hauled from a nearby stream, pulled from a hand-dug well or pumped from the ground with wind power.

In addition, much of what was raised on our farms then went to feed the livestock which powered much of the transportation needs of the other sectors of the economy. The ice wagon, the coal cart, the doctor's buggy, the preacher's mount, the horse drawn street cars, the tow animals of the canals - you name it, it was most likely pulled with animals fed with feed off of our nation's farms.

Then came our dramatic conversion to a fossil-fuel economy. The street cars were electrified and later replaced with busses. The ice man got a truck and was later put out of business by the home refrigerator. The doctor got a car and then quit making any house calls at all. On the farm, horses and mules were replaced with the internal combustion engine and the people were replaced with ever bigger and faster machines of all forms.

What Congress and America need to realize today is that we must reverse the pendulum that has swung so far to a fossil fuel economy and back it up just a bit to a bio-fuel and renewable-fuel economy. Our farms can once again be an essential component to our nation's energy needs. Ethanol and other bio-fuels can be made from corn, soybeans and other surplus grains. These same fuels can also be made from many other feed-stocks and ethanol doesn't have to be just a corn based, Midwestern industry. There is biomass in every state of the union and ethanol should be produced in every state.

Our farms can also supply electricity to the nation with the expansion and new technology of electric wind generation. We are now harvesting a new wind crop from America's farms and wind power development holds tremendous potential both as a new cash crop for farmers and as a rural economic development strategy.

The Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in the pending energy bill will advance our bio-fuel industry. Other provisions in the energy bill will help us build the farm-to-market road for our new wind crop. We also need the resumption and extension of Production Tax Credit for wind generated electricity as it expired at the end of 2003.

The current "hidden cost" of gasoline is almost $5.30 per gallon according to The National Defense Council Foundation (see http://www.iags.org/n1030034.htm ). Ethanol competes very well with this highly subsidized fuel. Our wind generation capabilities are almost limitless. What we need is a national energy policy which ensures affordability and reliability through diverse, decentralized, domestic and renewable energy sources.

Contact Larry Mitchell at (202) 835-0330