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Bob Dinneen

Bob Dinneen

Posted March 24, 2009 | 10:23 AM (EST)

Celebrating Ag and Energy Day Year Round


Each year, we set aside one day, Ag Day, to appreciate the role of agriculture in the everyday lives of Americans and people around the world. But simply calling it Ag Day does not convey the vital importance and increasing influence agriculture is having over multiple aspects of our national agenda. Nowhere else is this growing influence more visible than in the debate about our energy future.

American farmers are the most productive and environmentally sensitive on the planet. They are increasing the amount of food and feed they provide using the same amount of land and fewer inputs like fertilizers and herbicides. And more recently, they are providing ever-growing supplies of reliable domestic renewable energy, largely in the form of renewable fuels like ethanol.

Partnering with agriculture, America's ethanol industry last year produced a record amount of ethanol -- in excess of 9.2 billion gallons -- as well as a record amount of livestock feed in the form of distillers grains, the co-product of ethanol production. This record supply of renewable fuel added more than $65 billion dollars to GDP, reduced oil imports by 321 million barrels equal to 10 months of imports from Venezuela, helped support nearly 500,000 jobs many of which are in rural America, and added tens of billions of dollars to household incomes.

These impressive contributions to our nation's energy and economic security all occurred against the backdrop of record corn exports, near record amounts of corn fed to livestock, and an increase in the amount of corn leftover for use this year. In other words, American farmers answered the call to provide enough grain to meet the needs of food, feed and renewable fuel markets.

These facts fly in the face of the arguments made by some of world's largest processed food companies and meat production corporations that ethanol production was driving up food prices. In fact, farmers were so successful in producing corn last year that the price for corn has fallen precipitously as traders realize ample supplies of the grain exist. And yet, those crying wolf about the impact of ethanol on corn and food prices continue to keep the price they charge for their products at or above record levels. Such a situation certainly does make one scratch their head.

The potential for agriculture to be a huge contributor to our energy security is not limited to farmers growing grains. Scientists are frantically developing new renewable fuel production technologies that will utilize agriculture's waste streams and alternative energy crops to produce fuel. Processes are nearing commercial application that will turn Georgia's abundant wood residue from its pulp and paper industry into high octane, cleaner burning ethanol. The same thing is happening in the Midwest that will capture the cobs from the corn harvest to supply both a natural gas alternative as well as ethanol. And more promising technologies are in the works for dedicated energy crops like energy cane, switchgrass, and myscanthus.

Celebrating the productivity and the potential of American agriculture is something that we need to do more often. Too few people recognize that food doesn't miraculously appear on grocery store shelves. And fewer truly appreciate the potential for agriculture to be a major part of our national energy policy. Recognizing the impact of agriculture is something that we should do year round, not just on its designated day.