Did you know that propane is a key fuel in the United States, as it heats over six million homes in the winter? According to philly.com, it’s vital to American farms as well, because it runs grain dryers after a wet fall harvest season, and it keeps livestock barns all over the country warm too.
According to reuters.com, propane is becoming a key component on the nation’s farms at the other end of the growing season. After finishing spring planting, more and more farmers are using propane to power their irrigation equipment, and they’re having success doing it. Farmers are reporting a significant decline in the amount of fuel they need, which in turn saves them a lot on their overall cost of fuel.
However, philly.com reports that after a brutal winter in the Midwest and Northeast USA, there are questions about the supply of propane. Despite the fact that the nation produces more propane than it can consume domestically, there was a big shortage of propane during the winter heating season. The shortage was so bad, 30 states declared emergencies, and loosened certain trucking restrictions on propane deliveries from other areas. Governments boosted heating aid to low-income residents, and propane dealers were forced to ration the fuel.
Several factors contributed to the shortage. Field to Field talked with a couple gentlemen who are deeply involved in the propane industry. Mark Leitman is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for the Propane Education and Research Council, and Phil Smith is the lead energy salesman for the Aurora Cooperative in Nebraska. They both called last winter a “perfect storm” for the propane industry, and feel the supply will be enough for next winter, and in the years ahead.
A farmer works on a propane irrigator engine (Photo from Alexis Abel, Public Relations Council at Swanson Russell)
American agriculture leaped over a major hurdle with President Barack Obama signing into law the 2014 Farm Bill during a ceremony at Michigan State University on Friday, February 7th. According to the New York Times website, the Bill was several years in development, but came together early this year, adding stability to the Ag sector of the American economy.
Dairy farming is one of many areas of the economy regulated by the Farm Bill (photo by Chad Smith)
While it was a major hurdle to overcome, it was just the first in a series of hurdles the Ag sector faces as it looks to the 2014 calendar. Agriculture involves a very diverse group of people and organizations, but there are some common concerns listed by many of the groups, even as they celebrate a new Farm Bill.
2014 starts with good news
Kevin Paap is the Minnesota Farm Bureau President. According to their website, the Farm Bureau calls itself “an advocate for agriculture, driven by the beliefs and policies of it’s members.” He said the Farm Bureau has been working with lawmakers to get a new Farm Bill in place, and it was a long time in coming together:
Chandler Goule is the Vice President of Government Relations for the National Farmers Union. The NFU website bills it’s organization as “United to grow Family Agriculture.” He said the Farmers Union feels it’s a good bill, and says there are a lot of positives in the legislation for family farmers, including country of origin labeling for meat products at the grocery store:
Chandler Goule of the National Farmers Union (photo from newenglandfarmersunion.org)
Renewable Fuels still a challenge
According to the website ethanol-information.com, the Renewable Fuels Standard is a part of “energy legislation that would set a minimum number of gallons to be used in the nation’s transportation fuel supply each year, including corn-based ethanol and biodiesel, which is soybean-based.”
Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap (photo from twitter.com/kevinpaap)
According to the Biotechnology Industry organization website, the EPA recently proposed slashing the mandated amount of renewable fuels in the nation’s supply. Paap said that’s simply unacceptable. “The Renewable Fuels Standard is working. We’ve got cleaner air; we’ve got more jobs, economic development, and energy diversity. There are over 380,000 jobs just from ethanol production.”
Goule said, “The rug has been completely pulled out from under the Renewable Fuels Standard. Big oil companies don’t want us to grow our own fuel, and they don’t want to give up their share of the marketplace.” He said, “Land-grant University studies have shown the price of gas will go up without an RFS.” Rural America will also be hit hard as well:
Immigration reform to deal with
Beginningfarmers.org quoted a White House report on their website, saying, “Among all economic sectors, the U.S. Ag sector is particularly reliant on foreign born workers.” Papp said, “Agriculture hires about a million workers a year. It’s physical labor, and it takes place in all seasons. We need the ability to find workers when they’re needed. Crops and livestock won’t wait for farmers to find help.”
He said, “The current H-2A program is not working. It’s too costly, there’s administrative delays, and it’s got very tough recruiting requirements.”
Goule said many folks outside of the Ag sector don’t realize how important the immigration issue is to agriculture:
A lot to do yet
Agriculture did enjoy a big victory, but Papp said there is still a lot to do yet:
Is OSHA guilty of regulation overreach on grain bins? (photo by Chad Smith)
Bob Stallman is the President of the American Farm Bureau Federation, which is the national umbrella organization for the Minnesota Farm Bureau. He spoke recently on the Georgia Farm Bureau’s website about issues Ag will have to deal with in 2014