USDA: No time to rest on biofuels success

DES MOINES Iowa’s ag economy cannot afford to be satisfied with what it has achieved with biofuels, but to continue to create business opportunities that will bring its young people back to rural communities.

That was message delivered on Jan. 30 by Dallas Tonsager, the U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture, during the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Summit in Altoona.

Tonsager described himself as “the most optimistic and worried person in the room.

“The biofuels industry is necessary, because $2 corn was unacceptable.” But a government with decision-makers bent against biofuels development, the future looks doubtful for the industry’s long-term success.

With the demand for corn virtually destroyed and the likelihood that even a fair U.S. corn yield will usher corn prices down to the $3 per bushel level, Tonsager said he’s worried about the impact all these factors will make in rural America.

As a deterrent to the fall of future marketing of Iowa’s leading commodities, Tonsager said he is committing himself to public and private actions including urging Congress to pass a farm bill in 2013 and encouraging private investment in renewable energy developments.

In government action, Tonsager said 60 percent of the country is still in drought conditions and the government needs to have its attention focused on that fact, to maintain ag stability “to keep in best position even if crop prices go backward.”

In addition, he said, “we need the whole rural economy in a constant state of renewal.” He challenged Farm credit Services of America and rural electric cooperatives to “stimulate business start-ups with venture capital.”

He said currently there are 6,600 renewable energy projects applying for funding across the country including nine advanced biofuels (cellulosic) plants, 386 anaerobic digesters and numerous wind turbine projects.