The drought and near-record-high corn prices are fueling a fight in the agricultural industry, as cattle ranchers push for a temporary halt to a federal ethanol mandate.
A national cattle group, dairy organizations, and chicken and pork interests have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to waive a rule that requires gas refiners to make 13.2 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol this year and 13.8 billion gallons next year, arguing corn should be used to feed animals instead of fuel.
Their supporters include 25 U.S. senators and 156 members of the House — including Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, the lone member of Michigan’s congressional delegation to sign a letter urging EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to grant the relief in a bid to decrease corn prices.
“Corn ethanol will use four out of every 10 bushels of corn forecasted for this year, so the price of corn just keeps going up,” said Kathleen Hawkins, executive vice president of the Michigan Cattlemen’s Association in Okemos.
But corn farmers and ethanol producers want to keep the program, arguing that rising corn prices should be blamed on the exceptional drought — the worst one in at least 30 years — and not on a program that creates strong sales for farmers in normal years and promotes energy independence.