WASHINGTON — Demand for ethanol for cars will attract enough support to lead to passage of a major farm bill next year, despite disagreement on subsidy payments for farmers, a key Democrat and the Republican agriculture secretary agreed Tuesday.
Popularity of corn-based ethanol has soared because of high oil and gas prices. But corn prices have risen so high, and surpluses have dropped so low, that lawmakers want to find other crops to make ethanol and keep the industry growing.
“Energy actually may be the engine that pulls this farm bill, or pushes it,” Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said Tuesday after meeting with Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.
Harkin will chair the Senate Agriculture Committee after Democrats take control of Congress next year, when the nation’s farm programs are due for an overhaul.
Johanns argues for distributing dollars more equitably, pointing out that fruit and vegetable growers get no subsidy checks even though their crops are worth as much as subsidized crops — corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton.
Both sides agree on the desire to spur production of ethanol, a grain alcohol that is blended with gasoline to make cleaner-burning fuel.
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