Fueling South Dakota’s economy

I was humbled and honored to have joined the president, vice president, and secretary of agriculture in the Oval Office when the president announced to me and several of my agriculture-state Senate colleagues that he was directing his administration to move forward with the year-round sale of 15-percent ethanol-blended fuel (E15), something the president had pledged to do when he ran for office and a result for which I’ve advocated for more than a decade now. 

There are a lot of things worth fighting for, and, like this one, I’ve found that many of the biggest, most consequential fights of my legislative career have revolved around South Dakota’s agriculture industry. They’ve always been worth it.

Agriculture makes our state tick. It gives life to the hardworking families and businesses who support it, and it helps people around the world who are nourished by the products that come from our own backyard.

Our ranchers help raise a large percentage of the beef and pork that eventually make it to family dinner tables around the country, and our farmers grow crops, like corn and soybeans, which are critical components of our nation’s food supply. And as the largest industry in South Dakota, agriculture is an essential part of our state’s economy, employing tens of thousands of people and infusing billions of dollars into the state each and every year. 

There’s no doubt our crops play an important role in helping feed the country (and world, for that matter), which is obvious to most South Dakotans, but many people, particularly those who live outside of the Midwest and Great Plains, don’t often realize that our crops also help fuel the country, too.

Lisa Richardson, executive director of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, summarized the importance of corn and ethanol to our state well: “In South Dakota, our entire economy is based upon agriculture. The largest piece of that is corn. To put this in perspective, in South Dakota, we raise about 800 million bushels of corn. We’re going to use 400 million [bushels] for ethanol production in this state—over half of our crop.”

In fact, as a result of the president’s decision, an additional 2 billion bushels of corn nationwide will be converted into biofuels. This is good news for farmers, jobs and the economy, and consumers who will see reduced rates at the pump. This is a true win-win solution. 

According to Dean Frederickson, general manager of POET, “It keeps high-tech jobs here in South Dakota. It keeps people from having to move away to use [the] education and experience that they have.”

When I was just a freshman senator, I saw the value of year-round E15 fuel and the potential boost it could provide to consumers and South Dakota agriculture, which is why in 2007, I first called for a regulatory waiver process that would have permitted higher blends of ethanol in the United States.

While we hit several roadblocks along the way, the fight continued, and with President Donald Trump’s commitment to U.S. farmers that he’d finally pursue this policy, I knew we had a partner in the White House who would help deliver. 

Before the president even took the oath of office, I met with the person he intended to nominate to head the Environmental Protection Agency to stress the importance of agriculture and expanding E15. Since then, we’ve continued to keep pressure on the administration, and the results speak for themselves.

I’ve already heard from South Dakota farmers and other stakeholders in the agriculture industry about what this means to them. They’re excited by the announcement and are glad the president stuck to his word. I am, too. 

Editor’s note: John Thune is a Republican senator from South Dakota.