Roy: Ohio farmers need natural gas now and in the future

September 3, 2020

Toledo Blade – The staggering impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Ohio alone can be illustrated through a variety of stats: about 125,000 infected with more than 4,000 people having succumbed to the virus. Jobless claims are staggering, with thousands of Ohioans still waiting on compensation claims to be approved.

As we slowly pick up the pieces, repairing the damage to our economy should be a critical priority for lawmakers. It will also, no doubt, be the focus of November’s presidential election with President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden vying for who is the right candidate to steer the economy back to prosperity.

Doing so will be a tall task for the victor, as coronavirus has wrecked critical sectors that drive America’s economy. In particular, the nation’s farmers — already struggling for survival — have felt the ripple effects of the pandemic, with demand for agricultural products dropping as restaurants, hotels, and schools shut down. Ohio, home to nearly 75,000 farms, is no exception. According to a University of Missouri Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute report, this year crop prices are projected to decline by as high as 10 percent and livestock prices by 12 percent. All told, net farm income will drop by around $20 billion in 2020.

There has been some relief, but it is the longer-term policies that will truly be make or break for our farmers. And calls by several lawmakers to ban natural gas production, known as hydraulic fracturing, falls firmly in the latter category, given that natural gas provides between one-third and one-half of the traditional energy used by American farmers. In fact, it is an ideal energy source for agriculture: versatile, affordable, and a low carbon footprint.

The repercussions of implementing such a ban would reverberate throughout the agricultural sector as natural gas prices would skyrocket by an astounding 324 percent. Those higher prices would be a crippling blow as energy costs can account for as much as 48 percent of total production costs for crops. The increased costs in wheat, corn, and soybean farming — 64 percent, 54 percent, and 48 percent respectively — would contribute to annual farm income loss of over $25 billion.

Not to mention, one report indicated the state could lose more than 500,000 jobs in 2022 if a ban on hydraulic fracturing was implemented.

For farmers here in Ohio and across the nation, the combination of higher costs and lost income could be lethal, leading to less production or, worse, closure. For every acre no longer in production or for every farmer forced to sell their land because they cannot remain profitable, it is one less acre and one less farm producing food. The impact would be felt throughout the food supply chain all the way down to the dinner table.

Importantly, many discount and ignore the role natural gas has played in making the U.S. a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. once again led the world in reducing energy-related CO₂ emissions in 2019. The reality is renewable energy that is becoming increasingly more competitive can’t do it alone. Natural gas is already helping the United States meet climate targets and is essential for any clean energy future.

Like other sectors of our economy, it is going to take time for farms to recover; therefore, it’s critical that policymakers refrain from policies which hinder that process. Policies that restrict our acquisition and utilization of natural gas — like a ban on fracking or restricting community hookups to natural gas — would do just that for Ohio’s farmers by targeting a secure, clean, and affordable energy source they rely on to run their operations and their homes.

Farmers play a vital and essential role in our nation and have continued to persevere, despite adverse circumstances. In these unprecedented times, they deserve a helping hand, not another knock-back.

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