U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, says it’s important for legislators to know what they don’t know.
That was one reason, he said, that he has been working for several months to put together an Agriculture Advisory Committee in his 16th Congressional District.
“I have family that has been involved in farming, but I’m not a farmer,” he said. “I wanted to bring different kinds of farmers together, so they can tell me what’s on their mind and educate me.”
The committee will serve as a forum for Kinzinger to hear directly from his ag constituents about how policy issues are affecting them. Producers from all 14 counties in the 16th District have been chosen to serve as representatives for their neighboring farmers. It is hoped there soon will be 20 to 25 farmers on the panel.
The committee met for the first time Dec. 19 in Ottawa. The launch of the committee would appear to be well-timed, considering the importance of many ag-related issues up for debate in Washington.
Farmers still are waiting for a new farm bill, and optimism is building that one will soon emerge.
Earlier this week, leaders of the Senate and House agriculture committees said they were close to announcing a multi-year bill. A few loose ends remain on a proposal to cut $9 billion in food stamp funding, and some disagreement lingers about dairy price supports and a catfish inspection agency that has yet to evaluate a fish.
The deal was shaping up nicely before Congress left for the holidays, said Adam Nielsen, Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of national legislation and policy development.
“Congress left Washington with the framework for a deal,” Nielsen said. “They were just very quiet about it.”
Nielsen said he is optimistic the committees will have everything hashed out in the next week. Kinzinger also said the farm bill should soon be a done deal.
Donna Jeschke, a Grundy County farmer and a past president of the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, was at the first advisory committee. She said there was solid agreement among committee members about the farm bill. As long as the uncertainty is gone, they can work within the rules – whatever they are.
“We agree that direct payments can go away,” Jeschke said. “We feel that having a strong crop insurance in place is the key to a good risk-management program. Extension of the current farm bill is not in anyone’s best interest.”
Emily Pratt also attended the first advisory committee meeting as Lee County’s representative. In addition to being part of a farm family all her life, she is a crop insurance agent for 1st Farm Credit Services.
Pratt said Kinzinger’s office reached out to the county farm bureaus for help in finding committee members.
“I’ve never served on a committee like this before, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect,” Pratt said. “It was a very open discussion right away. We were updated on the latest issues in Washington, and then he wanted to know how they were affecting us.”
‘A critical time for ethanol industry’
Now that the farm bill could soon be in place, renewable fuels standards and the U.S. EPA now seem to be taking its place as the hot-button legislative topic among producers.
In November, the EPA proposed to lower the amount of renewable fuels in gasoline. Included would be ethanol, biodiesel and cellulosic (plant-based) biofuels. The proposed rule has sent fear into grain and energy markets, and threatened the stability of investments with biofuels producers.
The proposed ethanol standards could especially effect Grundy County where corn is the largest crop. Of the 215,474 acres of farmland in Grundy, about 112,000 acres are corn, according to the most recent agriculture census.
This is the first time renewable fuel standards have been reduced since Congress first set it at 18.2 billion gallons in 2007. The latest proposal would require that refiners use only 15.2 billion gallons. Of that total, about 13 billion gallons would come from ethanol. The EPA said its decision is based on lower American gasoline consumption than what was projected when the standards were set in 2007. That trend is largely attributed to a challenging economy and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Grundy County Farm Bureau President Steve Kodat said the proposal would affect corn growers even if they aren’t selling their product directly to ethanol producers because the lower standards could destabilize the entire corn market.
“[The existing standards] help the overall price. They help keep the price at a steady level,” Kodat said.
The EPA is taking public comments on the proposed rule until Jan. 28, looking to finalize it in February. Nielsen said the Farm Bureau has been hard at work to get ethanol plants involved in the process. A petition drive in support of ethanol also is in full swing.
“This is a critical time for the ethanol industry,” Nielsen said. “It’s make-or-break time for the future of renewable fuels. It would be a big setback if EPA follows through on the proposed adjustment in blends. But we’ve learned that the battle is never over on the renewable fuels front.”
Kinzinger will get a good look at the renewable fuels issue sitting on the Energy and Commerce committee.
“Ethanol is very important to the family farms in this district,” Kinzinger said. “Ag groups are pushing for E15, but the EPA doesn’t want that yet.”
• Morris Daily Herald reporter Jessica Bourque contributed to this article.