This op-ed originally ran in the Fostoria Times Review:
By Tadd Nicholson, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association
Volatile gas prices are hurting consumers in Ohio and across the country. While they may be briefly dipping right now, prices across the state still range from $3.25 to $3.67 per gallon. Coupled with our nation's subdued economic recovery that has left too many Ohioans struggling, high gas prices are putting a serious strain on family checkbooks. And, when record gas prices return - as they most surely will - this economic burden will worsen.
We all know that the relationship between economy and gas prices is a problem. And it's worse in Ohio than in most other states. The median household income in Ohio is $48,071, almost $5,000 below the national average. And in 2011, Ohio drivers paid $2,252 on average for gasoline. That's money taken away from clothes, food and other necessities.
We have reason to be hopeful, however. One solution to this serious issue has been a game changer for rural Ohio. The solution is ethanol.
Ethanol has created a significant new industry in our state, with nearly all of its impressive growth coming in the past decade thanks to two key factors: agricultural advancements that have led to record corn yields, and the support of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) - a policy that encourages homegrown alternatives in the oil-dominated transportation fuel sector. According to a recent study from The Ohio State University, the ethanol industry supports 13,000 jobs and has invested $2.8 billion in the Buckeye state since 2008.
These are big numbers for our economy, and each gallon of ethanol we produce has ripple effects throughout rural economies too. The same OSU report found that for every single job created in direct ethanol production, nearly five are created in rural industries, like farming.
Beyond providing jobs and income to thousands of Ohioans, the ethanol industry creates a healthier, more competitive market for agricultural products. As margins for farmers go down, having multiple groups that want our product helps keep us in business. It's simple economics.
Another added benefit of our newly developed biorefining industry is the feed produced at refining facilities for livestock. To make ethanol, you take the starch out of a kernel of corn and begin to process it. The rest of the kernel, which contains nutritious oil and protein, is turned into high quality animal feed. This feed is a favorite of livestock farmers in the US, but is also a big export item, helping to bring money into our economy.
But farmers aren't the only ones benefitting from renewable fuel. Consumers are already enjoying lower prices at the pump thanks to ethanol. Research from multiple academic institutions show that blending biofuels like ethanol lowers the overall price of a gallon of gasoline. Because ethanol is less expensive than oil, and because the introduction of ethanol into our fuel has substantially increased the supply of gasoline in America, producing fuel that has been grown here has paid dividends for Ohioans and consumers across the country.
Growing crops in Ohio for food, feed and fuel is one part of the solution for a better future. With unpredictable high gas prices and the need to create jobs and spur our economy, we must support one of the few industries making progress on all of these fronts.
Nicholson is the executive director of the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Associationm Delaware, Ohio.