On the Air with AgriTalk host Mike Adams

AgriTalk host Mike Adams is a voting member and past-president of the National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) and is also a member of the National Agricultural Marketing Association (NAMA). Mike has received numerous awards and commendations from farm commodity groups and civic organizations for his straightforward approach to the issues. His peers have also honored him as a past recipient of the Prestigious Farm Broadcaster of the Year award. He is a vocal proponent of the ethanol industry.
By | July 01, 2003
EPM: You grew up on a small livestock farm in Illinois, so you probably understand the concerns of farmers, livestock producers and ethanol producers. How has your farm background helped you become a successful farm broadcaster, and how might your background affect your coverage of ethanol production and use?

ADAMS: Although I didn't realize it at the time, growing up working on a farm turned out to be the best preparation for being a farm broadcaster that I could have had. I was able to get a first hand view of the challenges of farming, plus experience the life style and work ethic found in rural America. I think this helps me better discuss ag-related issues with non-farmers as I try to connect producers with consumers. It is certainly an advantage as I talk with people about the benefits of getting their fuel from a domestically produced source.

EPM: In your opinion, why is - or why isn't - ethanol one of the most important new value-added agricultural developments in the last 20 years for America's grain farmers?

ADAMS: I think there is no question that ethanol offers farmers a tremendous growth market for their crops. The United States is often referred to as a "mature" market for food consumption from a population standpoint but that is certainly not the case for fuel use. We have only scratched the surface for ethanol use in this country and we already see the positive impact it can have on grain prices. When you figure in the use of (distillers grains) for livestock feed, you further increase your income opportunities.

EPM: Do you consider yourself an "ethanol proponent" or, as a broadcast journalist, do you have to take a more objective approach to covering ethanol production? In other words, even if AgriTalk promotes value-added agriculture, do you sometimes have to be a skeptic as well?

ADAMS: I am definitely an "ethanol proponent" and proud of it. That is why I recently purchased a "flexible fuel" (FFV) pickup for my personal use. To me it's a no brainer. We are talking about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, improving grain prices for farmers, providing jobs and economic activity for rural America and helping the environment. At the same time, I realize there are concerns and questions about ethanol use and production. I don't ignore those issues but rather address them head on. As I hear concerns raised, I bring guests on AgriTalk - even guests that aren't necessarily supporters of ethanol - and discuss those concerns. I acknowledge there are areas of the ethanol industry that need improvement and I try to explain how the industry is working on those issues. I don't dismiss reservations some people have about ethanol. Instead I try to educate them about the benefits of ethanol use and give them accurate information to help them make their decisions. There is a lot of misleading, inaccurate information about ethanol that keeps a lot of people from using it. I hope I can help educate them about the facts of renewable fuels.

EPM: You have covered agriculture, news and politics for three decades and met four U.S. presidents along the way. In your opinion, is George W. Bush, perhaps, the best friend the ethanol industry has ever had in the White House? And is that a little bit ironic, perhaps, given that he is an "oil man" from Texas?

ADAMS: Given the President's background, I think he has been more supportive of the ethanol industry than many thought he would be. However I would like to see even more support from the administration as well as Congress. It seems to me this is a matter of Homeland security and it frustrates me that there isn't an even stronger push by our leaders towards greater use of fuels like ethanol. I think there needs to be stricter enforcement of government vehicles' use of renewable fuels and stronger support from our government - state and federal - to the infrastructure for renewable fuels. We need more incentives to expand our domestic fuel production and distribution system so that it is not easier to get fuel from the Mid East than it is the Midwest. Also while it is important to always be looking for new energy sources and ways to conserve energy, we shouldn't be so focused on "potential" energy sources that we overlook an obvious and "present" energy source like ethanol.

EPM: Speaking of politicians and politics, what U.S. Senators do think are the most vocal proponents of ethanol production today?

ADAMS: I think most Senators from farm states have done a good job of recognizing the benefits of ethanol production to their states and their constituents. It has been gratifying to see the "bipartisan" support ethanol has received from Senators, Congressmen and governors. The recent votes in Congress supporting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) show the growing support for the industry.

EPM: In recent years, ethanol is a topic that is talked about frequently on farm radio broadcasts. When did you start to notice that ethanol had come to the forefront of agriculture - especially with corn growers - and had become a major topic of conversation on radio broadcasts?

ADAMS: In the early years it was such a struggle to get the ethanol industry going from both a governmental and consumer standpoint. Several events helped push the industry forward such as depressed grain prices, high fuel prices (at times), and environmental concerns. Farm broadcasters have been talking about and promoting ethanol for years but unfortunately it only seems to get most people's attention when gas prices go up and/or when we are involved in a war that, at least in part, is viewed to be about oil supplies. I think we now have the best opportunity I have ever seen to finally get over the hump for ethanol production and use.

You were named Farm Broadcaster of the Year. That's quite an achievement and something to be very proud of. Is there a set of core values that you can attribute to your success?

ADAMS: To be chosen by your peers as Farm Broadcaster of the Year is a great honor and a real highlight of my career. I don't pretend to be an expert but rather try to get the experts on the air. Rather than try to make people's decisions for them, I try to give them enough accurate information to help them make sound decisions. While I have my beliefs, such as on ethanol, I also try to acknowledge those who may disagree with me, and try to offer fair and balanced reporting on all sides of issues.

EPM: The National Corn Growers Association is a supporter of AgriTalk. What kind of relationship does the show have with NCGA, and how does ethanol play a role in that relationship?

ADAMS: NCGA sponsors our AgriTalk ethanol pump tour and helps us educate people about issues such as ethanol. We often discuss issues such as trade, fuel and government programs with leaders and members of NCGA, as we do with other ag groups. I work very closely with several state corn grower groups as well as NCGA to keep up to date on the issues they are addressing on their members' behalf. We work together to provide information to the nation's corn growers as well as consumers.

EPM: In your opinion, which aspect of ethanol production is the most valuable: value-added agriculture and rural economic development, environmental benefits of ethanol use, or decreasing America's dependence on foreign sources of oil?

ADAMS: All of the above. I think that is why the ethanol industry should and is starting to get, broad based support. Any one of those areas is reason enough to support ethanol but when you combine them it is a win, win, win situation. Some people may take issue with one or more of those benefits but it would be hard to discount all of them.

EPM: What is the AgriTalk Ethanol Pump Tour all about? Tell us about that.. . .

ADAMS: Last year I was looking for a way to help promote ethanol use and I came up with the idea of spending one Saturday each month at a gas station pumping ethanol and talking with drivers about its benefits. With the support of NCGA and state corn grower groups we identified fuel stations that were in the listening area of one of our affiliate radio stations and picked a Saturday to do an ethanol promotion. The state corn grower groups work with the fuel stations to discount the price of E-10 while we are there and we give away t-shirts, caps and literature about ethanol plus our AgriTalk affiliate station broadcasts from the tour stop. Area corn growers help me pump the ethanol and even wash some windshields. We have gone to Illinois, Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa and may add more states this year. It gives me a chance to talk with AgriTalk listeners about the show plus make more people aware of ethanol so they will hopefully look for it the next time they fill up. While many of those coming by are already ethanol users and supporters, we have also been able to reach a lot of people who didn't know about ethanol or who had heard something negative and had questions about it. We have had excellent response everywhere we've gone. In the future we hope to do more to increase the awareness of the benefits of ethanol plants and the availability of E-85.

EPM: There are two ethanol plants on line and no ethanol plants under construction in Missouri now. Are things leveling off there for ethanol in your state?
ADAMS: I just received word (in early July) that Missouri Governor Bob Holden signed an economic stimulus package that will assist with the funding of new public infrastructure for Missouri renewable fuels production facilities. This could be a big boost for the ethanol industry in the state of Missouri. However, I think a lot depends on the economy. Many states, like Missouri, are dealing with very tough budget challenges and that has limited what they can do as far as incentives for ethanol production. I think the passage of an RFS in a new energy bill and an improving economy will lead to more plants being built. One of the things I enjoy about living in St. Louis is that almost all the filling stations have ethanol in all of their grades. Drivers here are helping farmers and helping the environment.

EPM: Where do think the ethanol industry will be in five years? How about 10 years?

ADAMS: It's hard to tell. There always seems to be a new hurdle or challenge. I think a lot depends on Congress passing an energy bill with an RFS. If that happens, and it provides a floor rather than a ceiling for renewable fuels use, then the industry should continue to grow at a rapid rate. As that happens I think we'll see more ethanol production from sources other than corn. Consumers are fickle. They get motivated when gas prices are high and want to do something about them, but when the price goes down so too does their attention to where their fuel comes from.

EPM: What do you see as the ethanol industry's most formidable challenge as it continues to expand?

ADAMS: Each month the ethanol industry sets a new production record. While that is good, we must be careful that supply doesn't get too far ahead of demand. There will always be the challenge to make ethanol production as efficient as possible using the latest technology and research. There is also the challenge of maintaining a viable livestock industry in this country which is a key market for ethanol coproducts. Another challenge will always be the potential development of other fuel sources that could compete with ethanol. Last but certainly not least, there will always be the challenge of critics who refuse to accept ethanol's benefits no matter how much proof is available. EP