By Gary Truitt
Ten years ago this week I took a big step of faith. I quit my job and, with my wife nervously pinching pennies in the background, struck out to build a grand vision. That vision was to create an Indiana-based media company that focused on serving Indiana agriculture. Hoosier Ag Today succeeded far beyond my expectations. There was also another grand vision that was under development in 2006, and it too has succeeded far beyond most people’s expectations.
In 2006 Indiana was in the midst of a revolution, a revolution that would change the fabric of the Hoosier farm economy forever. Ethanol plants were popping up around the state like marestail. In 2005 Indiana had one operating plant, but by mid-2006 there were 21 plants under construction. With investment-friendly policies from state government, billions of dollars of investment poured into rural Indiana over the next few years. Purdue economist Dr. Chris Hurt predicted in 2006 that corn acreage in Indiana and across the country, which had been stagnant for several years, would now begin to increase. Hurt estimated that between 8 and 10 million more acres of corn would be needed nationally and that $4 corn and $7 soybeans would be likely for the next several years.
Hoosier Ag Today went on the air in September of 2006 with 10 radio stations. My
vision was to eventually have 30 stations. Today we have 65 stations and also reach many listeners with a variety of on-line and mobile programs. Likewise, the ethanol industry exceeded early expectations. Ethanol production has exceeded early prediction and plant efficiency has improved significantly, defying early critics who claimed it took more energy to produce ethanol than it generated. Unlike other industries (such as oil), the renewable fuels sector has weaned itself off early government subsidies. Dr. Hurt predicted in 2006 that, “Without a federal subsidy, the ethanol industry would not be profitable if oil prices drop below $60 a barrel.” Oil closed last Friday at below $45 a barrel. Ethanol production in the last government report totaled 961,000 barrels per day, the highest since May.
Over the past decade, HAT has experimented and employed new technology to deliver our information to producers. From web sites, to blogs, to e-newsletters, to mobile apps, and now to most on-line videos, we are always on the lookout for how new technology can improve our product. Likewise, the ethanol industry has been working hard to find other ways and other materials to produce ethanol. In 2006, Purdue researcher Dr. Mike Ladisch predicted that cellulosic or phase 2 ethanol production would be on-line within 5 years. It has taken a bit longer, but today cellulosic ethanol plants are producing ethanol from a variety of waste and plant materials. Yet — the grand vision is in danger of collapse.
The Obama administration and its pit-bull EPA are stifling the growth of 2nd generation ethanol in the US. Investment in new plants and technology and continued growth in domestic demand for ethanol has been shut down by the policies of the EPA and its administration of the Renewable Fuels Standard. New cellulosic ethanol plants are being built in France and Brazil rather than in the US. An increasing amount of ethanol produced in the US is being exported because the EPA has limited blending levels here at home.
The future looks bright for Hoosier Ag Today, we have a talented and dedicated staff, local radio stations that want to serve their local farming community, and loyal sponsors and listeners who we strive to serve every day. We are optimistic about the future of agriculture, but wish our leaders in Washington also believed in making agriculture a success by implementing policies that fostered growth, innovation, and productivity. They need to see the grand vision of how a growing and thriving renewable fuels industry can benefit our environment, our economy, and our nation’s energy future.