Now it appears the MTBE provision will be dropped, which may be an important move for ethanol producers. That's because the energy bill calls for ethanol production to double by 2010.
Just who will be around to produce the corn that's needed to make ethanol is an open question. Government numbers reveal, to no one's surprise, that fewer producers are farming more acres.
Currently, there are approximately 939.5 million acres devoted to farming, a decline of 15.3 million acres since 1997. Since then, the number of acres a farmer works has grown from an average of 431 acres to 441 acres. The average age of farmers also has increased, from 54 years in 1997 to 55 years in 2002.
The census reports there are 3.11 million farmers nationwide. Among them, black, American Indian, Hispanic and women operators all are significant contributors to agriculture, with their numbers steadily increasing from 1997.
For the first time, the study also examined how many households each farm supported. The numbers reveal the majority of U.S. farms supported only one household. An additional 314,043 farms supported two households.
For survey purposes, a farm is defined as any place where 1,000 dollars or more of agricultural products were produced or sold.