WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said Wednesday that Congress should do away with a federal mandate that has turned corn from food to fuel.
“The renewable fuel standard has real consequences for farmers and ranchers in my district,” he said. “And, it has a profound effect on poorer Americans as it drives up the price of food and makes it harder for them to feed their families.”
Womack has sponsored legislation that would eliminate corn-based ethanol requirements, cap the amount of ethanol that can be blended into conventional gas at 10 percent and encourage the use of cellulosic biofuels.
He spoke Wednesday to members of the “Smarter Fuel Coalition,” who were on Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to consider changes to the renewable fuel standard, which they said created an artificial market for corn that is driving up the price of feed used for poultry and livestock.
Womack said the issue is important to him because the cattle, dairy and poultry industries employ thousands of people in his district. He is also “reminded” about it from his father, who raises cattle and has seen the price of feed rise as more corn is diverted from feed to ethanol production.
William Roenigk of the National Chicken Council said the renewable fuel standard has inflicted deep and sustained damage to chicken production. The industry has incurred more than $44 billion in higher feed costs because of the requirement, he told a House panel last week.
But others in the farm industry argue that the standard has benefited rural America.
“Ranchers understand that biofuels don’t just help corn farmers — the success of the ethanol industry helps the rural economy as a whole,” said Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.
Between 2006 and 2012, net farm income nearly doubled from $57.4 billion to $112.8 billion, he said.
Johnson and Roenigk testified last week before a House Agriculture subcommittee chaired by Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.
Crawford said after the hearing that the split within the agriculture community on corn-ethanol comes down to those growing the corn and those paying for it. Since 2005 the percentage of the nation’s corn crop going to ethanol has increased from about 15 percent to 40 percent.
“If you take that much out of food and put it into fuel, you can’t help but have an impact on price,” Crawford said. “About 70 percent of the cost of raising broilers is the cost of feed. I don’t know how you sustain that over the long run.”
Womack was pessimistic about his bill’s chances this year given the mood in Congress that has caused most legislative efforts to stagnate.