Promises, promises

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Corn markets reacted with a ho-hum following President Trump’s attempt to repair the damage he caused to ethanol production by waiving blending requirements for 31 gasoline refineries. Up a penny or so on Monday. So much for something “really great” for farmers. The trade could be saying a couple things: You can’t believe Trump, and there remains too much corn and/or ethanol out there.

From what we can tell, the Administration will allow for blending 15 billion gallons of ethanol into gasoline. The problem is that we are producing 16 billion gallons. Ethanol production still outpaces demand even if the promise is kept.

Farmers and ethanol distillers had hoped for more. Instead, those closed ethanol plants are not likely to reopen on this pledge, if you can believe it.

“The latest pledge is only words until we see demand for biofuel gallons start to grow again,” said Tim Gannon, a Mingo farmer and former Democratic candidate for secretary of agriculture.

It’s not just the Democratic farmers who are fed up. The Washington Post and The Des Moines Register each interviewed farmers in Sioux County, the most Republican county in Iowa, and those corn growers and cattle feeders who depended on that ethanol plant are not voting for Trump again. (And they might just sit home and not vote for Steve King, we think.)

Whether corn-based ethanol is part of your ideology or not, it is an important part of the rural Iowa economy. It is even more important because of the political perceptions that surround it: If you disregard ethanol, you disregard corn growers and the whole Iowa thing. The Iowa-Iowa State football traveling trophy is an ear of corn, for crying out loud. Waiving ethanol blending requirements, and destroying four billion gallons of demand, is just below heresy in the list of unforgivable sins. Trump will not recover from that, no matter what he promised last Friday. Our Republican senators said it shows Trump loves corn growers. But they would still like to see the EPA put all this down in writing. As would everyone else. Because you just can’t trust someone who would sell out the USA to Russia or China.

There are good reasons to protect the ethanol industry, mainly involving national energy security. Advances in technology promise that its carbon footprint can be significantly reduced. And, farmers who are strapped into an unforgiving supply chain were sold the story that the political class is with us on this one, that ethanol can prop you up to keep growing bin-buster corn, so go ahead and borrow the money to buy more fertilizer. That contract has been in place since at least 1975 and is taken seriously by generations.

Corn-based ethanol is an important support that cannot be taken away when our nation’s security is woven into it, and when farmers are indebted to it. But it will get phased out over time as electric transportation ramps up because this is a problem that Trump did not create — we are growing too much corn on a chemical base that cannot be sustained. Trump was just careless enough to step on that electrified rail. The oil industry will sue, the EPA will look for wiggle room, and corn markets will continue to slide sideways, we suppose, until a sustainable alternative is offered.

SOMEDAY UPON HIS RETURN from Beijing, we hope in January 2021, Terry Branstad will tell us what he thinks of the Trump Administration. His son, Eric, headed the political effort for renewable fuels and eventually took over Trump’s Iowa campaign. The governor was honored with an appointment as ambassador. Then Trump started a trade war with China (whose markets Branstad the Elder worked for decades to cultivate). All was lost. And then the ethanol imbroglio. It damages the Branstad brand in Iowa. He is intimately associated with the destruction of Iowa ag export markets, with the political abandonment of the ethanol industry, and with an administration rife with corruption. Branstad was a decent man. We would like to know what he thinks of this malfeasance.

Articles Section: