Over the past four weeks, I had the opportunity to visit many states throughout the Midwest. I set off in late June on a month-long adventure with stops in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Michigan. I drove many miles and saw a lot of countryside. The weather was a recurring topic among many of those with whom I spoke. Part of the trip was spent in Colorado, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of NFU’s All-States Camp and also meeting with NFU’s Board of Directors. I made several stops along the way back from Colorado to Washington D.C., to discuss the upcoming farm bill, and a few of my stops were solely focused on renewable energy.
The whole agriculture economy in the Midwest has been impacted by weather this year. In Oklahoma, extreme heat and drought had scorched much of the pasture and crops. Some places hadn’t received even half an inch of rain for more than 200 days- nearly unlivable conditions for plants trying to grow on already dry land. Alternatively, as I passed through parts of North Dakota and Missouri, I saw more water than I have ever seen in these areas in my lifetime. Prevented planted acres are greater than ever. One-third of my own farm was too wet to plant this year. The story is similar on farms across North Dakota and South Dakota. Fortunately, Nebraska and northern Kansas seem to be in decent condition for the most part. They are not quite as wet as up north and not drought-stricken compared to farmers and ranchers in the south.
Policies affecting farmers and what the 2012 Farm Bill will have in store for them was also a frequent discussion I had. I gave four presentations to stakeholders and Farmers Union members, outlining the basics of what we’re dealing with for the next farm bill and what Farmers Union members have determined as top priorities on the matter. Among the topics are maintaining a strong safety net, conservation and energy components, the livestock title, and a farm-friendly dairy policy. Of course, an underlying theme going into the next farm bill is funding the programs we care about most.
I was afforded the opportunity to view renewable energy facilities, namely Virent Energy near Madison, Wis., and Abundant Energy Works (AEW) in Elkhart, Ind. Virent Energy uses cutting edge techniques and technology to produce the biological equivalent of petroleum, which can be used in anything from jet fuels to gasoline. The company currently employs around 100 people and is poised to move into larger markets soon. AEW is one of the more interesting technologies I have seen. AEW has created a patent-pending 25 horsepower steam engine that can run on any kind of material, such as animal or human waste, yard waste, and even water. This engine burns at a very hot temperature and can be used for cooking, cooling, and electric generation.
Thank you to all of you who participated in the NFU All-States Leadership Camp and 75th Anniversary Camp Reunion in Bailey, Colo., a couple weeks ago. The rich history of Farmers Union was again made evident to me. The quality of individuals that went through our All-States program many years ago and the quality of leadership in the youth involved in Farmers Union today were uniquely joined together. I see a bright future for agriculture in the future family farmers, ranchers, and fishermen that were present at camp that week. I’m grateful for the families that gave their children the opportunity to participate in NFU’s education programs.