Posted By Cindy February 25, 2008
Biofuels were in the spotlight last week at USDA’s 2008 Outlook Forum with the theme “Energizing Rural America in the Global Marketplace.”
The opening plenary session included Paul Schickler of DuPont/Pioneer Hi-Bred and Bob Dinneen with the Renewable Fuels Association, who made up half the panel talking about biofuels and new technology increasing yields to meet the demand for both food and fuel.
“The rapid advances in productivity, technology and innovation are contributing to remarkable productivity increases,” said Schickler. “World production of corn (since 1991) has progressed right along with the rapid increase in consumption and the reason is that corn yields have increased over that same period by 30 percent.”
Schickler noted that in the last decade the world population has increased 13 percent, income has increased 35 percent, meat consumption has increased 25 percent, corn consumption is up 32 percent and soybean consumption is up 52 percent … but total global crop area harvested has only increased by four percent.
He called it “remarkable” and it truly is. Here is a link to Schickler’s presentation in pdf form.
Dinneen said we need to make sure we are doing everything possible with biotechnology to develop new varieties to increase crop production. “We are going to get to 200 bushels per acre far sooner than anyone believes that we will,” he said.
“We will not have food security in this country unless and until we have energy security,” said Dinneen.
Watch the entire plenary panel session on USDA’s website.
There was also a panel focusing specifically on sustainability of ethanol with presenters including Dr. Mark Stowers of POET and Rick Tolman of National Corn Growers Association. (The links will take you to their presentations.)
Posted By Ken February 15, 2008
From our friends in Illinois:
Just as it begins to appear everyone is piling on and taking a cheap shot at the benefits of ethanol, a media heavy hitter unleashed this earth shaking bit of news…increased ethanol use cuts our dependence on foreign oil.
“While debates heat up on whether ethanol will ever be “green,” one aspect of the alternative fuel is becoming clearer: explosive production is stifling an established driver of oil markets — U.S. gasoline demand — and could lead to lower prices at the pump,” according to a Reuters story out today.
Monthly U.S. ethanol output through November 2007, the last data available, averaged nearly 12.7 million barrels, or 64 percent higher than average monthly production in 2005, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistics arm of the Department of Energy.
Ethanol production this year is expected to rise 130,000 barrels per day — or the amount of gasoline a medium-sized oil refinery puts out — to 550,000 bpd, according to the EIA. However, production is anticipated to reach 9 billion gallons in 2008 with plenty of growth potential waiting in the wings for the right market signals.
Posted By Cindy February 12, 2008
Media coverage of a recent article in the journal “Science” on studies that address the possible consequences of a faulty approach to utilizing lands to produce biofuel feedstocks only reported part of the story, according to the 25x’25 Alliance.
“Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the studies failed to report that they also identified ways to avoid these problems and insure that future biofuels give us both a new renewable energy source and greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” said a statement from the Alliance. Officials say the boost in production can be met by new and better technology without bringing environmentally sensitive land into production.
Increased demand for cellulosic ethanol and the next generation of biofuels has led to research into enhancing existing crops, such as corn and soybeans, with enzymes specifically geared towards ethanol production. While biofuels will lower the cost of farming inputs, higher yielding, technology-enhanced crops can make existing acreage more productive, helping prevent encroachment of biofuel feedstock production onto sensitive lands.
The Science article reported on studies that indicate clearing land for the production of biofuels would produce twice as much greenhouse gas as the use of biofuels would reduce.
Posted By Cindy February 8, 2008
It has been way too quiet lately when it comes to negative news about biofuels, but that changed today with the release of studies that say clearing land for biofuels will increase global warming. And the studies include alternative feedstocks here, not just corn and soybeans. Because we are going to be growing more crops of any type, the studies claim it will be worse for global warming than than using gasoline or other fossil fuel.
The media has jumped on this story like ticks on a hound dog. Virtually every major news outlet from the Washington Post to the LA Times is running the story, so expect this to be the next big issue for biofuels to address.
It is important to point out that these studies are based on models, predictions and assumptions that may not turn out to be true. A short counterpoint in the Washington Post article quotes Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s industrial and environmental section, who said using renewable resources always made sense in the long run, compared with gasoline and diesel fuel.
“It makes no sense to continue burning fossil carbon, which is essentially carbon that has already been sequestered for millions of years in the Earth’s crust, and which when burned releases carbon dioxide and also creates a carbon debt that can never be paid back,” he said. “It is much more logical to produce biofuels that recycle carbon, even if a short-term carbon debt is created. Even if it’s 167 years, you’re still better off than burning oil that can never be paid off.”
Posted By Cindy February 7, 2008
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing this morning on the effects of the Renewable Fuels Standard on Energy Markets.
“The RFS requires that increasing amounts of our motor vehicle fuel come from biofuel, such as ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy,” said Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). “Homegrown biofuels are good energy policy, good environmental policy and good national security policy. However, there is some concern that RFS as enacted risks taking the biofuels industry backward rather than pushing it ahead. I am particularly concerned about three aspects of the RFS: first, early year biofuel requirements could be too aggressive; second, mandates for specific technologies and feedstock could prove to be overly prescriptive; finally, the environmental restrictions may be too narrow.”
Witnesses at the hearing included Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, American Coalition for Ethanol executive vice president Brian Jennings, Michael McAdams of the Advance Biofuels Coalition, Charles Drevna of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Carol Werner with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.
Posted By Ken February 6, 2008
Earlier, we noted the usual ill-informed Lester Brown diatribe about food supply and the possible impact of corn and ethanol on food prices. You can read about it here, if you want to.
This week, our colleagues at the American Farm Bureau are celebrating Food Check-Out Week. You see, food has become more affordable lately, as this chart shows, when you compare xpenditures for food as a percentage of disposable income. Here’s the details from the USDA.
The Farm Bureau reports:
In comparison to working 37 days to pay for food, Americans worked 77 days to pay their federal taxes, 62 days to pay for housing/household operation, and 52 days for health/medical care, according to The Tax Foundation.
They also offer fast facts and an interesting graphic comparison.
Posted By Cindy February 4, 2008
Reports of the demise of the ethanol tariff in the new White House budget were apparently greatly exaggerated.
Despite hints from Energy Secretary Sam Bodman last week that changes might be made to the expiring U.S. ethanol import tariff in its new 2009 government budget that was sent to Congress on Monday, no such changes were included.
Reuters reports that an energy department spokesperson said while the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff is set to expire at the end of December during the 2009 budget year, which begins this October 1, the administration will have discussions with lawmakers later this year on what should be done with the tariff.
The tariff is designed to protect the U.S. ethanol industry from other countries taking advantage of the 51 cent per gallon blenders’ tax credit.
Posted By Ken January 30, 2008
It’s great to see the Wall Street Journal run an article that puts the future of corn and ethanol in a good light. Sure, a few typical and unnecessary jabs were taken, but this column, based on an interview with a Syngenta exec, covers the bases well. The future of ag is bright, especially when you consider the global economy and the impact of technology.
The key snippet here is the final sentence: “Bottom line: It’s a good time to be an ag-science company, and even a better time to be a farmer.”
Posted By Cindy January 23, 2008
It’s not every day that the mayor of the nation’s biggest metropolitan area uses a farming analogy to make a point, but that’s what New York’s Michael Bloomberg did today in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. While accepting the National Mayoral Leadership Award for his efforts to combat climate change, Bloomberg launched into a tirade against Congress and the federal government that slammed agriculture in the process.
AP reports the “metropolitan mayor used a farming analogy to heap scorn on the current crop of Washington leaders.”
“They spent most of this past decade when things were good running up bills with reckless abandon, and when the economy started heading for the ditch, the special interest giveaways got even bigger. I think they ate the seed corn without worrying about the next year’s crop. Here we are, the seed corn is gone, and all we’ve got is a barn full of IOU’s,” he said.
Ok, so the analogy sort of works (if anyone actually ATE seed corn), but what does the son of Jewish immigrants who grew up in Boston and became a multi-billionaire financial tycoon know about seed corn in the first place? And its not like when Jesus spoke to people using farming parables so they could relate – his audience was a bunch of fellow metropolitan mayors who also probably don’t know seed corn from popcorn.
The comment makes a bit more sense when you read the entire text of Bloomberg’s remarks, which transition from seed corn to attacking the farm and energy bills:
“We all know that spending decisions in Washington are driven by whatever will attract votes and campaign cash. You can see it in the farm bill: 10 percent of farms – the large agribusinesses – captured 75 percent of the benefits, while the small family farmer got a few crumbs. You can see it in the energy bill, which was also a gift to agribusiness – and the rest of us are paying higher food prices as a result.”
Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg would like to see how the people of New York City would fare trying to grow their own food and he could learn first hand what it would be like when the seed corn was gone and the barn was empty.
Posted By Cindy January 17, 2008
A poll done by Reuters at the 89th annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention this week found that over 70 percent of farmers surveyed say ethanol has helped boost their bottom line.
The poll also showed that 90 percent of farmers said they would not reduce their corn plantings this year because of an increased supply of ethanol in the Midwest.
“You look at feed grain demand and worldwide production levels they’re going to plant because the demand is there for uses besides ethanol,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman.
The 686 farmers sampled were responding voluntarily from about 5,000 in attendance at the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in New Orleans.