MICHELE NORRIS, host:
No matter what we're driving, we're going to be filling our gas tanks with more biofuels, thanks to the new energy bill. It mandates a huge increase in the use of ethanol by 2022, and that's music to the ears of corn farmers, including Gregg Heide of Pomeroy, Iowa. He says if it weren't for ethanol, he'd have real trouble turning a profit.
Mr. GREGG HEIDE (Farmer, Pomeroy, Iowa; Iowa Farmers Union): Not that long ago, I was growing my corn probably below the cost of production, and as the demand for ethanol has kicked in, it's raised the price of corn and it's made the bottom line on my farm much better. I take much less of my farm income off the subsidy market. Now, it's coming more from real open competitive markets so.
NORRIS: Do you mind putting some numbers on this conversation? How much has it raised the price of corn?
Mr. HEIDE: Oh, last year, I think going into corn harvest, I think my local bid for a corn - in this area was probably $2.40 a bushel or less. This morning, the bid in my local coop is probably close to $4 a bushel.
NORRIS: You know, looking back in the past, how important has the ethanol industry been to your bottom line and what are you expecting now with the signing of this bill?
Mr. HEIDE: I guess I - it just - looks like it gives ethanol a firmer footing going into the future, and I think it's been real critical for me. I - my profit margins were down to the point where, you know, I - you're forced to look in other ways of making a living and off the farm income to supplement. I think it's probably going to make a difference on whether a lot of guys, like me, to stay out on the farm for the next 20 years or so. I'm an ethanol plant investor too, so I just see the whole industry as a diversification and taking risk out of my farming operation.
NORRIS: You say you're an ethanol plant investor, tell me about that. What have you invested in?
Mr. HEIDE: It's - the plant is in the planning stages. They're just doing their equity drives. Now, I think the name of the plant is Prairie Creek Ethanol up in Wesley, but I'm a share investor in that plant. And so I hope to make money off of dividends from ethanol production as well as growing corn to supply those kind of plants.
NORRIS: Have you been watching closely what's been happening with the energy bill here in Washington? If I were to go to the local diner there in Pomeroy or head to the feed store, what might I hear from others about this bill?
Mr. HEIDE: I think a lot of farmers would be hopeful that we do something long-term on the renewable fuel standard, and the only negative thing I hear about ethanol is regret over the industry going more suit and tie; that a lot of farmers would like to invest in these plants and a lot of the newer ones are going private investment.
NORRIS: You know, you're a farmer and you're an investor so you're sort of thinking…
Mr. HEIDE: Right.
NORRIS: …about this and I imagine in, you know, two different ways. As a farmer, you know, this is good news, but as an investor, are there also questions about whether corn is really the most efficient way to make alternative fuels that perhaps it's better to look at other sources?
Mr. HEIDE: Well, I think corn-based ethanol will probably always have some part of the biofuels market, you know? I look forward to maybe growing a dedicated energy crop like switchgrass down the line on a portion of my acres or a biomass product, you know? But I think the economics of corn are positive, and I think we have our best days in front of, you know, ethanol in front of us. But, I mean, a lot of farmers understand that we need to grow corn responsibly and make ethanol responsibly so.
NORRIS: Well, Mr. Heide, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. HEIDE: All right. Thank you.
NORRIS: Gregg Heide is a corn and soybean farmer in Pomeroy, Iowa.