By Lloyd Ritter | July 10, 2017
American farmers have built an impressive record of productivity in the past several years. Despite their success, rural America is facing new economic headwinds. Congress should move expeditiously with its work on a new Farm Bill to help farmers and rural communities respond to the challenge. Agriculture energy programs remain a vital part of the legislation because they help farmers diversify the sources of energy they use and the types of products they generate.
Despite years of record harvests—perhaps even because of them—a worldwide decline in commodity prices cut U.S. net farm income by 15 percent to about $68 billion in 2016, the lowest level since 2009, according to the USDA. Income is projected to drop another 9 percent in 2017. That decline in income reverberates throughout rural America, undercutting the economic vitality of communities and several states. Farm Bill programs support investments in rural communities that diversify economic opportunities and bring new jobs. Every one of the farm bill energy programs is important and effective, and each of them provides a success story.
While making his first policy speech in Iowa, our new Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Purdue recently thanked farmers for their innovations and technological developments, promising that this new administration would continue to look for opportunities to support the agriculture industry in its efforts to innovate. Ensuring funding for these important Farm Bill programs is one critical way to do just that.
The Biobased Markets Program, also known as the BioPreferred Program, provides tangible evidence of the diversity of rural America’s contribution to the national economy. The program supports a voluntary product label that informs consumers about the biobased content of products on their local store shelf. One example is Procter and Gamble’s Tide bottles. According to USDA, sales of products that qualify for the label equaled $127 billion in 2014; the overall U.S. economic impact of the biobased industry was nearly three times higher, at $393 billion. Moreover, the biobased product industry employs more than 1.5 million people, and for every job in the industry, another 1.76 jobs are created.