Farmers from across the country gathered in Washington D.C. on Dec. 5 to voice their opinion in public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
One of the testimonies came from Stark County farmer Mark Thomas. He brings a unique side of the conversation to the table being both a livestock and grain producer. Thomas and his family milk about 400 cows and farm around 2,000 acres. Thomas, along with Delaware County farmer John Davis, represented the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association at the hearings amid protestors wearing messaged t-shirts, the oil industry and environmentalists.
“There are 140 people here to testify and you have the mixture of the pros and cons. You get everything from the people with the t-shirts to food verses fuel,” Thomas said.
EPA announced in mid-November the proposed changes to the standing RFS. Controversial cuts in biofuel requirements have been a major talking point of the plan with a 60-day comment period. Those scheduled to talk in front of government officials had a very short amount of time to present their views.
“It’s pretty interesting. The way it’s set up is everyone gets four minutes. At the end of your four minutes, you’re done,” Thomas said. “They can ask you questions and you give answers.”
Representatives of the livestock industry were also in the nation’s capital, arguing the RFS gives the ethanol industry an unfair advantage over cattle producers. Thomas said he doesn’t want different sectors of agriculture to fight each other. From his point of view, it’s important for all ends of the industry to continue the current RFS instead of slashing 1.39 billion gallons in ethanol requirements as suggested by the proposed 2014 plan.
“I’m a livestock guy. I feel that if we repeal the Renewable Fuel Standard, and we’ve already seen after the drought last year that prices went through the roof, it will be very hard to make a living,” Thomas said. “I understand that, but I also understand that we’ve had one good year. Corn has dropped half of what it was a year ago. If we get another even average year we could quite easily be losing a lot of money to grow crops.
“The other part is if grain gets too cheap, we know what happens. Without the farm bill, we don’t have the safety nets that we had in the past.”
Though current market situations are not optimal, he feels a positive outcome is in store if the current standards are kept.
“I really feel strong about toeing the line. Everybody is at that point where we can still make decent money with things just starting to level out,” he said. “I hope it continues to go as planned.”
Ohio was one of over 13 states represented by farmers like Thomas. Each took time out of their daily operation (including Thomas on his birthday) to fight for what they believe is an important discussion.
“On a side note of how important this is to me, there are things I don’t like to do. I don’t like to leave my farm. I don’t like to leave my family. I don’t like to wear a suit. I’m wearing the suit, I’m away from my family and my farm, and I’m over here voicing my opinion,” he said. “That’s how important I feel it is to let these guys know how we feel.”