By Representative John Carney
Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture dropped its projection of corn yields to just 123 bushels per acre. That's the lowest amount farmers have seen from their cornfields since 1995.
The report is an indication of how devastating this summer's weather has been for the nation's agriculture industry, and it confirms what many of us already know by looking at Delaware's farmland and our own yards.
So far this year, drought and consistent high temperatures have combined to parch about 60 percent of the country.
Delaware has seen the impact as much as any other state, and the poultry industry has been hit particularly hard. Chicken feed, made primarily from corn and soybeans, is the industry's top operating cost. With the short supply of corn pushing prices to historic highs, poultry integrators are already spending record amounts on feed. Individual growers across Delaware may begin feeling the effects later this year.
The challenges facing the agriculture industry have a direct impact on the state's economy and could hit every Delawarean in the pocketbook.
Agriculture contributes $8 billion annually to Delaware's economy and employs more than 30,000 workers.
The poultry industry alone has an economic output of $3.2 billion and employs 13,400 people. Sussex County, the American birthplace of the poultry industry, leads the U.S. in broiler production, producing more than 200 million birds annually.
But even if you've never been to a farm, you can see the impact the drought is having on agriculture at your local supermarket. High corn prices are directly related to prices for chicken, livestock, and dairy products, which could soon become more expensive, as well.
While the government cannot control the weather, it does have one tool available that can directly impact corn demand helping to reduce costs for livestock and poultry producers, allow many family farmers to maintain their livelihoods, and avoid the dangerous economic impact of sustained record-high corn prices.
Currently, the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, implemented in 2007, mandates a minimum level of ethanol production each year. Due in part to this mandate, roughly 40 percent of the nation's corn crop now goes to ethanol production, meaning that more corn is used for ethanol than animal agriculture.
Companies -- like DuPont -- are developing new technologies that will enable us to more efficiently feed ourselves and fuel the economy. These technologies will dramatically improve corn yields and move the nation away from corn-based ethanol in favor of advanced biofuels, such as cellulosic ethanol made from corn stalks, leaves, and cobs.
Government also has a role in bringing the next generation of biofuels to market. I'm very supportive of these new technologies and am working to ensure that we make smart investments and craft policies that work for both the agriculture industry and energy producers.
But, this summer, we can't afford to wait. The threat to the agriculture industry and every American family's budget is just too great.
Earlier this month, I signed a letter urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily adjust the Renewable Fuel Standard in response to the dire needs of farmers and poultry growers across the nation.
Federal law gives the EPA flexibility on the Renewable Fuel Standard so that it can quickly respond if there is an economic need. This summer is exactly the situation Congress anticipated when it included this flexibility in the law. The EPA should respond accordingly. Doing so could help ease concerns over the short supply of corn, keep families fed, and save the jobs of many Americans.
Representative in Congress, Delaware, at large Washington, D.C.