It’s taken more than a year for the national media to catch up, but after nearly 18 months of Trump-inflicted tariffs, farmers at last are being given an opportunity to express their anxiety over lost trade opportunities and the effects on the sputtering agricultural industry. We watched plenty of reports from last week’s Iowa State Fair. The national media frequently turned its cameras from the bumper crop of Democratic presidential candidates at the fair and instead heard from farmers about their economic problems.
Some weren’t too pleased with the president, who told Americans that trade wars are easily won. Actually, many grain and livestock producers facing extreme uncertainty feel like big losers.
If not for ill-advised trade policies, U.S. farmers would have access to foreign markets. Instead, they have a bumper crop of uncertainty as foreign buyers who once relied upon U.S. producers now feel it’s too risky to do business with the United States.
These trade relations required decades to build, and the president now has thrown another crippling blow at corn producers by approving ethanol waivers for dozens of small refineries. This is in spite of the federal Renewable Fuels Standard, which establishes how much ethanol is to be blended with petroleum each year. The RFS is supposed to provide grain producers and ethanol investors the assurance they need to grow the grain and make the ethanol.
But that’s not going to happen this year because Trump allowed the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the RFS, leeway to grant waivers, supposedly because blending ethanol with the petroleum they’re refining imposes a financial hardship on the small refineries.
We in farm country know all about hardship. First the trade tariffs, and now RFS waivers.
On Aug. 9, EPA announced it had granted 31 small refinery biofuel waivers for 2018. That followed the 54 waivers the administration granted in 2016 and 2017.
All told, the waivers erased 4 billion gallons of demand for ethanol — a serious blow for corn growers and ethanol producers.
Roger Berry, the administrator for the Nebraska Ethanol Board, said some of the waivers were granted to refineries owned by companies such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
“Their continued handouts to the oil industry come during a time when heartland farmers are really struggling due to depressed commodity prices, flooding and trade wars. Securing access and demand for homegrown, cleaner-burning biofuels should be a top priority from an economic and environmental standpoint, not destroying the marketplace program the RFS was created for,” Berry said.
The RFS makes sense. So does ethanol-blended fuel. Buying it saves families hundreds of dollars per year, it eliminates billions of dollars of foreign petroleum imports, it reduces the U.S. trade deficit and greenhouse gas emissions, and gives farmers a much needed alternative market for corn.