Bush, Congress ride the road to fuel independence

By Peter Graham

There’s excitement in the old town tonight. Well, anyway, there’s encouragement. President Bush spent valuable time in his State of the Union address calling on the Congress to create a mandate for increased ethanol production.

When Bush asked for a 35-billion-gallon ethanol production standard by 2017, “wows” were heard throughout the hinterlands. That’s a seven-fold increase in U.S. ethanol capacity in merely a decade. We older citizens know just how fast a decade rolls by!

Such diverse groups as the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Renewable Fuels Association lauded Bush’s clarion call, but it begs the question: Will there be enough corn production to satisfy the voracious

ethanol appetite? If there is, will there then be enough corn to meet the needs of livestock feeders, and will the price be too high for them to maintain their razor-thin profitability?

The American Soybean Association hopes its member-farmers will help some by providing even more soy-based biodiesel fuel for the nation’s sizable diesel fleet. Biodiesel production has been skipping right along. In 2004, production was 25 million gallons. In 2005, it was 75 million gallons!

The concern over the corn supply is real. Industry experts worry that a major push for ethanol while corn prices are high will hurt the industry before it can tool up for cellulose-based ethanol, using switchgrass and other base plants. Corn is king and will remain so for a long time, but there is urgent need to jump-start research and development in the cellulose-based areas.

Bush, faced with a Democratically-controlled Congress for the first time in his two-term tenure as the executive, made his biofuels plan come close to that being touted by bipartisan farm-state Titans, Sen. Tom Harkin (D) and Sen. Richard Lugar (R).

According to Successful Farming Magazine, the president laid out his expanded plan for curtailing gasoline use and reducing our guzzling of foreign oil in just the way that Harkin/Lugar has it laid out. That bill would require 60 billion gallons of various and sundry renewable fuels by 2030, while Bush called for 35-billion gallons of “alternate” fuels by 2017.

Harkin accepts the Bush plan as negotiable, but worries that coal will play strongly in the overall plan. He is opposed to expansion of coal for generating electricity for environmental reasons. Like everything else in Washington, one hand washes the other, so getting what farm-staters want in biofuels will require a certain amount of compromise on other areas of the overall fuel picture. It’ll be interesting!

Senators were pleased with the Bush Administration’s call for $1.6 billion additional funding for research into cellulose-based ethanol that was recently announced by Ag Secretary Mike Johanns. The amount, however, is less than Harkin/Lugar asks for and that has been authorized by law.

Looking at the fortunes of livestock producers in view of the explosive growth of ethanol corn-use, Successful Farming said pork producers remain optimistic. One reason is that a good percentage of them also grow corn and soybeans and re-invested in ethanol and biodiesel plants in addition to their livestock operations. They see expansion of these as a win because they can use distiller grains to feed livestock, grain that has also produced ethanol.

The hope is that a balance can be achieved in use of corn for feedstocks, ethanol and plastics, etc. When cellulose-based ethanol goes online and is viable economically, the whole thing will sort out. The bottom line is that renewable fuels created by farm-grown produce will knock the socks off of the traditional oil business and help guarantee an age of success for farmers everywhere.

I’ll see ya!

This entry was posted in Morrison County Record. Bookmark the permalink.