2.15.2017 | printed in the Winter 2017 issue of VITAL magazine
There’s an art to telling a good story, one that captures the reader’s attention and carries it through to the end. The conclusion typically offers a moral lesson, reflects upon past actions or outlines a path for the future. For the past six issues, we have shared the history of POET. This story began through humble origins on a family farm near Wanamingo, MN and grew over several decades into the world’s largest producer of biofuels.
My father, Lowell, started out by experimenting with ethanol on our family’s kitchen stove and eventually building a farm-scale ethanol distillery, much to our neighbors’ surprise. This type of bold, entrepreneurial spirit led to establishing the foundation for what is now POET.
Our tales of POET’s history have caught up to present-day, but I believe our story is only beginning. As a company, we are always looking and thinking ahead. What’s the next big thing? What’s the next innovation that will propel POET forward? What’s the next barrier to break?
When this story began nearly thirty years ago, I never thought cellulosic ethanol would become a reality, or that competitive sports like Indy and NASCAR would run on biofuels. I never imagined POET would be the catalyst for such change, but we can’t stop there. Now is the time to start dreaming again. It’s time to dream about the day when renewable, homegrown American ethanol takes up more of the gas tank. It’s time to dream about higher fuel blends blanketing the country and the world. It’s time to dream about a time when our children and grandchildren no longer have to worry about their health because of gasoline’s cancer-causing carcinogens. It’s time to dream of a day when our brave men and women in uniform no longer have to fight to defend our nation’s imported oil supply. We know all of these dreams are possible, but they will not become a reality without all of us working hard and working together.
Ag producers and ag companies know better than anyone that we’ve reached a crossroads. Farmers across the Midwest are experiencing prices below production costs while technology improvements continue to drive up yields. Many operations are facing the same difficult decisions their fathers faced, including my own, during the early 1980s. Prices and farm income have plummeted and corn carryouts have reached record levels. Exports didn’t save the day then, and we can’t rely on them to come to our rescue now. In fact, exports have changed very little in the last 30 years.
Something’s got to give and the consequences of inaction and apathy are dangerous. If we don’t fight, if we allow this to happen, this ag crisis will not only affect farmers but will cause devastating impacts on the Midwest, our urban cities and our entire nation. As a teenager in the early 80s, I saw many of my neighbors file bankruptcy or leave the farm. I hope I don’t have to see that again. To solve this problem, farmers need a higher percentage of the gas tank.
Rural America has a powerful voice when we decide to use it. We made ourselves heard during the presidential election and we need to use that same voice again now. Agriculture producers, ag companies, grain producers and stakeholders need to let Washington, D.C. know we need a larger share of the gasoline market. This is the only true solution to stave off this impending ag crisis. Driving toward higher blends like E15, E30 and even E50 will have positive ripple effects throughout our economy. That’s a message Capitol Hill and the Trump Administration need to hear. Consumers deserve a lower priced, higher quality product. The oil companies will fight agriculture at every turn, but agriculture deserves to win.
Our nation’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, once said: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” I firmly believe we have the power and potential to lead and to change the future of agriculture and the world. The moment to act is now – I hope you will join me.
Other Stories in this collection:
In Sight: Something's Got to Give
by Jeff Broin, Executive Chairman and CEO of POET