Ideal Spring planting conditions are, at times, followed by yield-diminishing drought. Trade deals promising increased access to foreign markets can be accompanied by increased foreign competition at home. And changes in U.S. farm policy can offer producers a "safety net" or an intricate web of bureaucratic red tape.
This week though, America's corn growers received some welcome news from Washington. As lawmakers began debate on a sweeping Energy Bill that stalled last year, there were calls for an increase in alternative fuels -- notably ethanol.
The ethanol provision, part of the broad energy bill working its way through the Senate, is strongly supported by the ethanol industry, which claims the expansion to 8 billion gallons per year also would open up more crude oil for American consumers. Ethanol proponents claim increased use of the corn-based additive would reduce US dependence on foreign oil.
Sen. Byron Dorgan D - South Dakota: "We just finished the ethanol title on this piece of legislation today. What a wonderful thing that is...to grow energy in your farm fields. I know some oil companies don't like it. When I learned they didn't like it, I figured this has got to make a lot of sense for our country."
The Ethanol provision did face opposition from interests outside the Midwest. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York called the ethanol requirement "nothing less than an ethanol tax levied on every driver" and a "boondoggle" that only benefits farmers.
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein (FINE-STINE) also opposed the ethanol requirement, expressing concern that the provision would reduce fuel economy and increase fuel prices.
Meanwhile, President Bush is calling on lawmakers to put an energy bill on his desk before the Congressional recess in August.