A Farmer, Highway 50 and Common Sense

By January 4, 2007Energy

As the new, Democratic-controlled Congress convenes, with leadership eager to single out a sector of the economy to punish — the energy sector — we ask them to consider the experience of Dave Burt, a farmer from Flora, Ill.

Mr. Burt spoke to Steve Inskeep, an National Public Radio reporter who put together a week-long series setting the stage for Congress’ return. “Route 50 Conversations” featured quick chats with folks who live along U.S. Highway 50 from West Coast to East. Burt’s comments caught our attention Thursday in light of the congressional plans to increase taxes on the oil industry and end incentives for drilling, policies that would inhibit development of new energy supply.

Inskeep: How’s business?

Burt: We had a pretty good year farming. Our biggest problem this year is energy costs have just escalated. When diesel fuels goes up, then gasoline (and) fertilizer goes up right with it. And, of course, it costs that much more not only to plant it and harvest it, but just like today, we’re hauling grain some 60 miles round trip, and fuel cost is definitely a big impact.

Inskeep: Maybe it’s just time for you to get a job at Wal-Mart.

Burt: (Laughs) No, this is good times, actually. ….It’s exciting times for the farm. One of the things I know that in the state of Illinois, for example, they’re pushing renewable fuels for ethanol, and I’m not so sure that for the health of the country that is what we should be doing, in terms of burning food for fuel. My hope would be that they would pass an initiative to let us drill domestically for oil.

Inskeep: Well, now, Mr. Burt, you’ve got a Democratic Congress coming in. Democrats have talked about energy independence, but I’m not quite sure their agenda is quite the same as yours necessarily. I think they’re thinking more in terms of conservation than oil drilling.

Burt: Well, then the only other way we’re going to be able to conserve fuel is to raise gasoline to a price level where people quit using it recreationally. Which is going to hurt the economy, I think.

Yes, it will. And so will discouraging development of U.S. domestic energy supplies, the oil and natural gas that farmers like Dave Burt need to grow the world’s food.

P.S. The NPR series was pretty good. The producers clearly made an effort to find subjects representative of their regions and did not slant the series through a selective, biased use of interviews. But, hey, Inskeep, what’s with the gratuitous Wal-Mart reference?