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VT Farmers Hope for Relief

A potential federal mandate change may bring relief to Vermont farmers.
WILLISTON, Vt. - Ethanol is a fuel source derived from crops like corn, and the Environmental Protection Agency mandates that a certain amount be used nation-wide to promote energy independence. Ethanol usage, and the price of corn it's made from, has increased in past years as part of that federal mandate.

"The dairy farmers buy grain to feed to those cows, so when the price of grain goes up in the Midwest for ethanol, it drives up the price of grain for Vermont farmers," says University of Vermont Agricultural Economist Bob Parsons.

Lorenzo Whitcomb is one of those farmers.

 “What we pay for corn meal probably went up twenty five to thirty five percent, so yeah, a major increase," he said.

The ethanol mandate was set to increase next year. But Friday, the EPA reversed course and proposed to cut it, likely cutting the cost of corn too.

"That's going to be a big plus for us because the grain we buy on the farm is our biggest expense," Whitcomb said. “Vermont Congressman Peter Welch has long realized that the EPA mandate was having negative consequences in Vermont, especially for farmers. Because of that he and several other members of Congress signed a letter just last month asking the EPA to lower the mandate.

If the mandate isn't lowered, Bob Parsons says farms will keep growing more of their own corn to save money, potentially leading to environmental damage.

"You may be seeing a little bit more maybe marginal land going into corn than what you had before. Every time you plow up a field you have greater potential for runoff and soil erosion than what you would if that field was hay," he said.

Farming on sensitive lands is already a problem in the Midwest. Ethanol is causing problems off the fields too. It's damaging many small appliance engines like lawn mowers and chain saws.
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