The federal government should do more to ease uncertainty for farmers struggling with high fertilizer and fuel costs and limited availability of supplies to repair their equipment and protect their crops from pests, weeds and diseases, said said a small group of Iowa farmers at a Republican Forum on Agriculture on Tuesday.
Farmers are particularly disadvantaged among business owners by inflationary costs because they have less ability to pass on some of those costs to their customers, they said. Crop and livestock prices are determined by a multitude of factors, many of which are beyond their control.
“Everyone is scared,” said Clayton County farmer Joe Zuercher. “We don’t know when the end is coming, and that’s probably the most crucial part right now. How long are we going to have to put up with these crazy fuel prices?”
Zuercher was among a small group of farmers who were invited by Iowa Republicans on Tuesday to discuss the challenges they face as planting season approaches. The virtual chat was squarely aimed at the policies of President Joe Biden’s administration, which they say ignore a potential balm for fuel stability: ethanol produced from corn.
Fuel prices have been rising steadily since November 2020 as the country tries to pull itself out of the economic turmoil of the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for fuel – and its cost to purchase it – plummeted at the start of the pandemic, leading to production cuts here and abroad, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Fuel prices have increased due to increased demand and lower production.
The problem was recently exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent gasoline and diesel prices soaring more than any three-week increase in the past three decades, the report reported. EIA last week.
Biden has pushed electric vehicles as a way to insulate the country from fluctuating fuel prices in the future, but it will likely be decades before electric vehicles outnumber gas-powered vehicles in service.
Biden also considered resuming oil imports from Venezuela to help offset fuel supply chain disruptions caused by the war abroad. A number of federal lawmakers in Midwestern states have promoted biofuels as an alternative.
“It’s a punch when they look at Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, and here in our heartland we have biofuels,” U.S. Representative Randy Feenstra, R-Iowa, told the farmers’ panel on Tuesday. .
Ethanol industry officials in Iowa have said there is enough production capacity to replace the crude oil the United States imported from Russia before Biden recently halted those imports, which account for a small percentage of the total fuel supply of the United States.
Dave Swenson, a research scientist at Iowa State University who specializes in transportation economics, said an increase in biofuels would do little to reduce fuel prices.
“We don’t have a fuel shortage in the United States,” he said, adding that fuel prices are driven by global factors.
Feenstra wants to make E15 – a gasoline blend containing 15% ethanol – a dominant fuel for year-round use in the country. Such a move would increase demand for corn, and Iowa is the nation’s top corn producer.
“I think that would reassure everyone saying, ‘Okay, we have alternatives,'” Feenstra said, “and I think that would quickly reduce the price” of fuel.
Farmers said on Tuesday there was also a lot of uncertainty about the availability of supplies to protect their crops as they grow.
“Our local co-op said there could be fungicide shortages and then chemical shortages,” said Chris Perdue, a farmer from western Iowa.
And they lamented the random availability of parts to repair their equipment – the result of pandemic disruptions in the production of those parts. Iowa Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, is a farmer who said his neighbor was forced to buy a hydraulic pump for his tractor from a dealer in Nebraska because it was the only place of the country that had it in stock.
Jim Boyer, a farmer from Emmet County, had a similar personal anecdote. He’s waiting for a $40 emissions-related sensor for his tractor, and he’s not sure if it’s coming soon.
“I can’t drive this tractor – a quarter million dollar piece of equipment – because I can’t get this sensor,” he said.
The Iowa Republican Party and its chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, hosted the discussion Tuesday in recognition of National Agriculture Day.