Agriculture

Who They Are
  1. Small farms: These account for 91% of the agricultural industry and 22% of its production. Each farm makes less than $250,000 with a majority making less than $10,000 annually. There is a gradual trend towards shifting to larger production facilities as small farm profits decline; however, this will take time as many small farms are profitable or willing to operate with losses. Most small farms focus on products that do not require full-time labor forces including livestock and grains1. See Figure 3a for the overall farm distribution in the U.S.
  2. Large Agribusinesses: These make up the remaining 9% of the agricultural industry and create 78% of its production. Large Agribusinesses dominate the political landscape due to their large profits and lobbying efforts. These farms focus on cash crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and dairy. There is often a negative connotation associated with large agricultural firms because of their control over the industry and detrimental effects on rural communities and the environment.

                                                                            Figure 3a


Their Position
The main goal of the agricultural industry is to increase their profits. As a result, their overall position is in support of corn ethanol. Corn is one of the more profitable crops due to its versatility and large demand. That demand is projected to increase even more if the demand for ethanol continues to increase as illustrated in Figure 3b. However, the industry also contends that this increased demand will not cut into food supplies as illustrated in Figure 3c. Corn is also available right now. While switchgrass ethanol would also increase the profits of farmers, it is not available for commercial production like corn is.  The profits for corn ethanol are an immediate reality while switchgrass ethanol would require a large startup cost meaning that profits would be a few years in the making. To further their position, the agricultural industry also supports building dedicated pipelines for ethanol separate from gasoline pipelines as well as improving the railroads for transporting ethanol and increasing ethanol pumps across the country2.

                                                                                                                                       Figure 3b

                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                     Figure 3c
 

Important Advocates
  1. National Farmers Union: Founded in 1902, this union represents farmers in all 50 states. Their mission is to protect the economic interests and quality of life of rural communities across the country. They petition local politicians to gain legislation initiatives at the local level with hopes of eventually effecting national policy. Recent successes include petitioning the EPA to increase the ethanol fuel blend to E15, recovering $250 million in emergency aid for dairy farmers, and testifying before Congress on climate change. Their position is outlined in the following link: http://nfu.org/issues/energy/fuels-from-the-farm
  2. National Corn Growers Association: Founded in 1957, this non-profit organization has 35,000 members and represents the interests of 300,000 corn growing farmers nationally. Their mission is to protect the environment as well as the future and investments of U.S. corn growers. They petition local and federal politicians to achieve policy results favorable for corn-growing farmers. Their current petitions are to increase ethanol production, develop new products for corn to be used in, and improving trade relations through better markets and transportation networks. Their position is outlined in the following link: http://ncga.com/files/pdf/POLICYPOSITION_1.pdf
Power in the Controversy
The agriculture industry is one of the major reasons that corn ethanol is still competing in the debate for the best renewable fuel of the future. While the industry overall spent about $ 130, 000,000 in 20093 lobbying Congress, most of its power comes from supporting the politicians of Corn Belt states. While many farming states have low populations, their power in Congress is substantial due to the equal playing field of the Senate. Many agricultural states also hold important or top positions of Congressional sub-committees in charge of environmental policies. While the industry as a whole will benefit from ethanol regardless of the crop used, their concentrated power in Congress is the main reason that corn is still at the top of the list of alternative fuel sources.


1Hoppe, R. A., MacDonald, J. M., & Korb, P. (2010, February 1). Small Farms in the United States Persistence Under Pressure. Retrieved April 27, 2010, from http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB63/EIB63.pdf
Figure3a: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB63/EIB63.pdf
Figure3b: http://www.ers.usda.gov/AmberWaves/April06/Features/Ethanol.htm
2National Farmers Union. (2010). Fuels from the Farm. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from http://nfu.org/issues/energy/fuels-from-the-farm
3 The Center for Responsive Politics. (2010, February 1). Agribusiness. Retrieved April 27, 2010, from http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/indus.php?lname=A&year=2009
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