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Corn ethanol: What was Senator Toomey thinking?

Corn ethanol: What was Senator Toomey thinking?
Pennsylvania's Senator Toomey joined with California's Feinstein to propose killing the RFS Act's corn ethanol incentives.

Mike: This column departs from my joint effort with Sheilah for a reason you'll understand.

Lately, my inbox and mailbox has been filled with all sorts of correspondence concerning U.S. Senator Pat Toomey’s effort to repeal Renewal Fuel Standard incentives for producing corn ethanol. Back in mid-January, Toomey, along with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced an amendment to eliminate the RFS corn ethanol mandate.

When I heard of it, I quickly put on my corn grower’s hat and talked to a few of our board members and a couple of local farmers and representatives from our state's only corn ethanol plant, Pennsylvania Grain Processing, LLC.

Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey joined with California's Feinstein to propose killing the RFS Act's corn ethanol incentives. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

We drafted a letter to the senator's office that I signed on behalf of the Pennsylvania Corn Growers' Association.  It took a good eight weeks to get a generic reply back. 

Toomey's reply

The senator's letter stated that his amendment “would put an end to the ridiculous practice of burning food for fuel.” He also stated that the “sharp increase in the use of corn for fuel production has caused food costs to increase far faster than the rate of inflation. This is especially troubling for Pennsylvania livestock farmers whose price of feed is nearly half their cost of doing business. It is also of great concern for lower income families who are already hurting from our struggling economy and lack of job creation.”

By the time I finished reading his reply I was pretty well steamed. I have yet to figure out what market report he was looking at to see what today’s price of corn really is.

In the latest crop budgets that I looked at for our farm, we're just barley in the black at $3.80 corn. Knowing our numbers and talking with the neighbors, we are all in the same boat. Today’s price of corn for most farmers’ is at or below cost of production.

I don’t really foresee today's corn price as having a negative impact on Pennsylvania’s livestock producers either. Granted when corn was $7.50 a bushel, I'm sure that it was. But that has already been two and a half going on three years now.

We have several neighbors buying corn off of us for either beef or dairy cows. I've yet to hear any of them grumble over the price. And, I haven't yet seen a human eat field corn for food.

Related: Senators' bill cuts corn ethanol from Renewable Fuel Standard

I'm so very happy that our Senator is using “such up to date information” in making decisions that are the best for his constituents. In my letter, I invited Senator Toomey to come and tour his state's only corn ethanol plant. That way, he could see the positive impact that it has for the farmers of our state – the farmers he represents.

In the senator's reply, there was no mention of our invitation. I guess it’s time to write another letter.

Mike is president of the Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association. The Reskovacs farm near Uniontown, Pa. Read their "Two Hearts, One Harvest"  articles in American Agriculturist.

This opinion is not necessarily that of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.

Editor's note: In a late February news release, Toomey said the RFS "drives up gas prices, increases food costs, damages car engines and is harmful to the environment. Once again, this is the government using corporate welfare to shower money on a favored industry, then send the bill to the general public.

"Labor leaders, businesses and environmental groups have lined up to push back against this harmful regulatory regime."

Toomey and Feinstein cited undated Congressional Budget Office figures noting that the RFS would further increase corn prices, meaning as much as $3.5 billion each year in higher food costs. The senator implied that it was hurting oil refineries, particularly Delta Air Line's Trainer refinery near Philadelphia.

American Agriculturist also asked Toomey's office about the source and date of their analysis. As we went to press, there was no response.

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