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Former Ag Secretary John Block –

Hello everybody out there in farm country.

And now for today’s commentary—

This past week, we held the monthly luncheon meeting of the Ag Roundtable. Our speakers always address important ag issues. Bob Dinneen, the President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, spoke to a crowd of 30 plus ag industry leaders. I was proud to introduce Bob. He gave an excellent presentation on ethanol – making clear the huge contribution it is making to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the jobs created in rural America. A lot of people need to hear his message. That’s why I am going to hit some of the salient points today.

We all know that ethanol has its critics. Just today, I heard Rush Limbaugh attack ethanol. The Wall Street Journal is always criticizing ethanol. I’m a Limbaugh and Wall Street Journal fan, but in this case, they are wrong.

Ethanol is our leading renewable energy source – leaving all the rest in the dust. Ethanol is helping to revitalize our rural economy. The ethanol industry has been the fastest growing industry in the nation, with the value of ethanol output growing by an average annual rate of 7.9% since 1998. During that same time, our nation’s economy grew at an average rate of only 2.2% per year. That dramatic ethanol growth has created jobs – more than 90,000. It’s no accident that rural America is faring much better in the face of this recession than big city, USA.

When you gas up your car and are unhappy with the high prices – well, according to a University of Wisconsin study, you would be paying 89 cents more per gallon if it weren’t for the ethanol, which makes up 10% of our gasoline.

Another little known fact is that our dependence on foreign oil has declined from 60% in 2005 to 45% today. That is primarily due to ethanol. Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not against oil – just foreign oil. I say, “drill, baby, drill.”

I know you have all heard about the food versus fuel debate. I say it is way overblown. Over the past 5 years, we have had more corn available for food than in the preceding 5 years. Yes, corn prices have gone up, but that’s good. Farmers are getting a fair price for their crops. Farm program subsidies have been cut in half and will be cut again in the next farm bill. Farmers are getting their income out of the marketplace.

Just to set the record straight, ethanol is not subsidized. On top of that, it’s instructive to note that ethanol is $1 per gallon less expensive than gasoline. The market is calling for ethanol and will continue to ask for ethanol as long as oil prices stay high.

In 1977, 35 years ago, I was Illinois State Director of Agriculture. I looked up and saw that plane flying over the fair grounds pulling a big banner that read “Powered by Corn Alcohol.” “We’ve come a long way, baby.”

In closing, I would encourage you to access my website which archives my radio commentaries dating back 10 years and will go back 20 years when complete. Check on what I said back then. Go to

Until next week, I am John Block in Washington. is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.