Every Family Needs a Farmer

The ethanol industry tends to have a narrow view of agriculture and gets frustrated with the segments that oppose ethanol, writes Mike Bryan. The industry needs to try harder to understand the effects it has on other farming sectors.
By Mike Bryan | October 22, 2014

Be honest. When you think of agriculture, the images that come to mind for most of us are of small farms dotting the country roads, with red barns, cows grazing in the pasture, the smell of new-mown hay and harvest time. While that image does repeat itself in many parts of the country, farming goes way beyond red barns and new-mown hay.

Webster defines agriculture as: “The science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock.” But there are many other forms of farming that belong under a broader definition of agriculture. Examples include apiculture, keeping bees to produce honey, aquaculture, cultivating aquatic organisms such as fish and shellfish, viticulture, growing grapes, tree farming, and more. The point here is that what we think of as “agriculture” is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the various other forms of food and biomass production that go largely unnoticed.

From an ethanol industry perspective, we think of agriculture as those that provide either starch or biomass for ethanol production. But there are thousands of other products that come from the farm. Paper, plastics, oils, fuels, electricity, wood, rubber, livestock feed, human food and a host of other products are either produced by farms or derived from the feedstock farms provide. In other words, farms of all types fuel enormous global economic growth.

When it comes to political clout, farmers have that as well. Politicians in all parts of the world understand the importance of farms, no matter what the type. Added together, farming generates over $1.4 trillion dollars in America alone, every year. It’s little wonder farmers have the ability to change the political landscape.

My timing for this article is a bit off, since March is National Agriculture Month. But having been involved in agriculture in one way or another for the past 30 years, my admiration for the risk, the work and the ingenuity of farmers of all types in all parts of the world is boundless. It’s an incredible industry that contributes so much to the world and that is taken for granted by most.

In the ethanol industry, we tend to have a pretty narrow view of agriculture, in that it provides us with feedstock. We get frustrated by some segments of agriculture who oppose ethanol, often without really understanding the drivers and economic impact that various externalities have on their particular farming sector. It’s said that “when a butterfly flaps it wings in one part of the world it can cause a hurricane in another part of the world.” The same has to be true in agriculture. When one segment changes its outputs, markets or strategy, the ripple effect it causes can be felt globally. 

We need to be mindful of that and try harder to understand the affect, both positive and negative, we are having on other farming sectors. Our goal should be to not only grow our industry, but to support with all our ability farming in general. Because, as the Australian saying goes, every family needs a farmer.

That’s the way I see it!

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International