The Renewable Fuel Standard and the farmer

With much of Washington focused on the farm bill, the agricultural industry and its importance to the national economy are in sharp focus. With finite resources and space, we are constantly searching for more sustainable and economical ways to grow crops and raise livestock. That means doing more with less and leaving the land better than we found it. 

The Renewable Fuel Standard is an example of an important policy that not only contributes to the economic success of all types of farmers and producers, but the viability of our industry over the long term as well.

Many have tried to paint the agricultural community as divided on the economics of ethanol, but in reality, many of us in the livestock industry are great fans of renewable fuel. That’s because more than one-third of the corn used in ethanol production returns to the food system in the form of dried distillers grains. 

These grains are more nutritious than traditional feed and higher in protein, which cuts down on the amount of feed purchased and makes it a more economical choice for farmers. More economical choices for farmers equate into savings passed on to consumers. Industry estimates suggest dried distillers grains provide a 25 percent savings compared to corn feed. In fact, ethanol producers that are close to livestock and feed production are more successful financially than those that are not, due to the purchasing of these grains. 

Whether farmers are growing the corn that is converted into dried distillers grains through ethanol production or buying them to feed their livestock, this byproduct is an economic driver of the agricultural industry, creating both supply and demand out of what might otherwise be considered “waste.”

Last year, more than 39 million metric tons of animal feed were produced at ethanol plants, and about half of that feed was used in the beef industry. Dried distillers grains have a massive impact on the local agriculture community by generating economic activity and growth. 

The production and usage of dried distillers grains generates economic activity that drives the community. From growing the corn to ethanol production to dried distillers grains production, we are creating our very own local fuel source while at the same time feeding our livestock and helping to sustain the surrounding dairy farms.

Dried distillers grains are also a crucial export product of the American agricultural industry. Last year alone, more than a quarter of dried distillers grains produced domestically were exported to more than 50 countries worldwide. 

The debate in Washington does not reflect how crucial dried distillers grains and the Renewable Fuel Standard are to keeping our farms profitable. The opposition would have you believe that high feed costs and the fluctuating grain markets have dramatically increased the costs of raising livestock. What they refuse to take into account is the impact of weather, speculators, global market shifts and a variety of other complex factors that compose the variable industry in which we make our living. 

One of the most oppressive factors on the agriculture industry writ large is our nation’s overreliance on oil. In fact, volatile oil prices have the most significant economic impact on the agricultural economy as a whole, including livestock production and feedstocks. And the Renewable Fuel Standard is the one policy the United States has that encourages sustainable, domestically produced alternatives to oil.

Our experience is clear: Dried distillers grains are an important source of income for farmers, have a massive impact on local agricultural communities and are a cost-effective input for livestock producers working to meet consumer demand every day.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) recently said, “Agriculture is a major bright spot in our economy.”

From good years to bad, years of harvest surplus to years of extreme drought, the American agriculture industry continues to grow, innovate and persevere. Our resiliency is bolstered by policies like the Renewable Fuel Standard that allow us to strengthen and easily adapt to ever changing market demands. Let us continue to grow and endure as a bright spot in the American economy. 

Couser is president of Couser Cattle Co., headquartered in Iowa. Baumgardner is an Ohio farmer and member of the National Corn Growers Association.