American farmers play an integral role in feeding the world today. In fact, they have been for generations. Since 1960, the United States has exported more agricultural products than we have imported. U.S. farmers feed our families, our neighbors, our communities, our states, our country and the world, too.
But that could change if American farms don’t stay competitive. If you’ve been around a while, you might notice that there are not many stories of famine anymore. Global food production keeps rising.
American farms are facing increasingly competitive markets both overseas and at home. Food supply has gone up, and prices have come down, which has made it harder for farmers here in Ohio and throughout the Midwest to stay in business.
Recent developments in Brazil alone show what American farmers are facing overseas. Brazil’s corn production is up almost 50 percent over last year, with more than a third of that record crop going to the export market.
Until this year, the United States was Vietnam’s largest foreign supplier of soybeans. Having found ways to offer its crop at a lower price, Brazil is now in the top spot.
To continue to compete globally, American farmers have to find ways to keep costs down. Our competition is not just the big farm one county over or even one state over. It’s thousands of farms in hundreds of countries. And those farmers work just as hard as ours do.
That’s why we need to take every advantage we can get. That includes finding cheaper energy sources for our farms. Energy costs account for close to 1/3 of a farm’s expenses. If we can cut that cost, it would let us lower our prices to stay competitive.
“High costs, including high energy prices, and a lack of energy options for many rural areas are a genuine problem for agricultural producers, particularly in the Midwest,” a report for the Ohio State Grange found.
“Reducing energy expenses by accessing new energy sources is likely to be one of the most promising routes for cost control,” the report concluded. “Natural gas appears to be particularly promising because of availability, cost effectiveness and environmental concerns.”
The United States has big natural gas reserves, enough to make the country into a net natural gas exporter. But getting that supply to farmers in the Midwest has been a problem because there hasn’t been enough pipeline capacity.
Projects like the new Rover Pipeline are essential for supplying Midwestern farmers with the natural gas they will need to stay competitive in the future. That pipeline alone will bring as much as 3.25 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day into the Midwest.
Farmers, along with manufacturers, could use that extra capacity. Just as more food on the international market is keeping prices low, more natural gas here in the Midwest will keep energy prices low.
If you think the United States doesn’t need to build infrastructure like this to help domestic businesses compete, think again. Natural gas pipelines are being built or planned in Russia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Australia. If we don’t provide cheaper energy for our farms and factories, those farms and factories will lose ground to foreign ones that do have access to cheaper energy.
For farmers in Ohio and throughout the Midwest, it’s not just a matter of finding a little savings here and there. It’s a matter of survival in a highly competitive global market.
Other countries are making the infrastructure investments their farms and factories will need to compete. If we don’t make those investments too, we will be the country that falls behind, and our farmers will be the ones who have to sell their land, move their families and give up on their dreams.
Robert White is the president of the Ohio State Grange and guest columnist.