By Dale McCall
America’s farming communities are facing an economic crisis. Not since the 1980s have farm incomes declined so far so fast. The Wall Street Journal called it the “next American farm bust” and noted that rural communities are grappling with the steepest economic slide since the Great Depression. Billions of bushels of surplus crops are pushing down the value of U.S. ag products and nations like China are working to shut out American farm exports.
Agricultural communities are looking to leaders like Senator Tom Udall for support in tearing down market barriers that stand in the way of rural jobs and new opportunities to put America’s vast resources to work. Right now, the most precious of those opportunities may lie in renewable energy. Homegrown biofuels such as ethanol supply a full 10 percent of America’s demand for motor fuel, and access to growing markets will offer new opportunities for New Mexico farmers to compete against foreign oil at the gas pump. It’s a vital industry that already supports over 2,000 New Mexico jobs, generating over $100 million in wages.
Renewable fuels made from U.S. crops not only hold down prices for consumers, they are vital to combating global climate change, an existential threat for many southwestern farmers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), homegrown ethanol is cleaner than ever, reducing carbon emissions by an average of 43 percent compared to gasoline. Ethanol also replaces toxic additives in our gasoline supply, increasing octane without the health risk associated with chemicals like MTBE. Even better, for those raising livestock, ethanol production leaves nutrients and protein intact, generating vast quantities of high-quality animal feed.
The primary federal policy aimed at harnessing all these benefits is the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which provides homegrown energy a growing role in the fuel mix. America oil imports have fallen by more than half since 2005, when the RFS was first adopted. Last year alone, U.S. ethanol displaced over 500 million barrels of oil.
Unfortunately, that progress is under threat by fossil fuel companies in Washington, D.C. who want to eliminate competition at the gas pump by weakening the successful RFS. The move would be a devastating blow to rural communities, where farmers are already struggling to make ends meet. And, it would undermine the single most effective federal policy currently working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote investment in the next generation of high-performance, low-carbon biofuels.
The signs are clear. America can’t afford to back away from its commitment to homegrown fuels. American farmers are counting on Senator Udall and his colleagues in Congress to stand strong against those working to gut the RFS. The need for clean, affordable energy has never been greater, and the opportunity to harvest those resources will provide the market that farmers need to keep the economy growing in New Mexico and across the country.