USDA: Ag Innovation Agenda will benefit biofuels, bioenergy

By Erin Voegele | February 20, 2020

The USDA  unveiled its Agriculture Innovation Agenda on Feb. 20. The initiative, in part, aims to support renewable fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel and biomass. This includes a goal to achieve market-driven blend rates of E30 by 2050.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the launch of the Agriculture Innovation Agenda at the USDA’s 2020 Agricultural Outlook Forum being held in Arlington, Virginia. According to the agency, the department-wide initiative aims to align resources, programs, and research to position American agriculture to better meet future global demands. Specifically, the USDA said it will stimulate innovation with the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40 percent while cutting its environmental input in half by 2050.

“We know we have a challenge facing us: to meet future food, fiber, fuel, and feed demands with finite resources. USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda is our opportunity define American agriculture’s role to feed everyone and do right as a key player in the solution to this challenge,” Perdue said. “This agenda is a strategic, department-wide effort to better align USDA’s resources, programs, and research to provide farmers with the tools they need to be successful. We are also continually mindful of the need for America’s agriculture industry to be environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable to maintain our position as a leader in the global effort to meet demand. We are committed as ever to the environmental sustainability and continued success, of America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers.”

As part of the initiative, USDA will create a comprehensive U.S. agriculture innovation strategy to align public and private research efforts. Over the next year, the agency said it will utilize innovation breakthrough opportunities identified the National Academies of Science in its 2019 report, titled “Science Breakthroughs to Advance Food and Agricultural Research by 2030,” to form the basis for an upcoming request for information (RFI) focused on the most important innovation opportunities to be addressed in both the near-term and long-term. Using input gathered from the RFI, the USDA will identify common themes across the agriculture customer base to inform research and innovation efforts.

The USDA also said it will help farmers access and adopt new technologies and practices to help producers meet productivity and environmental goals. Over the next year, the agency said will improve internal coordination to better identify, customize and fast-track the best emerging innovation technologies to integrate and deliver to its customers through USDA programs. The USDA will also develop a standardized OneUSDA process that includes a “fast pass” progress for immediate in-take and integration of proven technologies.

In addition, the USDA said it will improve data collection and reporting, including the delivery of a new tool to measure and track progress on conservation practices. Over the next year, the agency will review the array of data it is collecting on conservation practices and make improvements to conservation reporting systems. The USDA said it has also outlined benchmarks to hold it accountable as it works to reach the goal of increasing U.S. agricultural productivity by 40 percent while cutting its environmental footprint in half by 2050. As part of that effort, the USDA said it will help enhance carbon sequestration through soil health and forestry and leveraging the agricultural sector’s renewable energy benefits for the economy. This includes promoting innovation and new technologies to manage manure, capture biogas, manage forests to prevent wildfire, and maximize the benefits of renewable energy through improved efficiency and carbon capture.

Regarding renewable energy, the USDA said it will support renewable fuels, including ethanol, biodiesel and biomass. The agency aims to increase biofuel feedstock production and biofuel production efficiency and competitiveness to achieve market-driven blend rates of E15 in 2030 and E30 in 2050. The UDSA also said it aims to achieve market-driven demand for biomass and biodiesel.

The Renewable Fuels Association applauded news of the USDA’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda. “We welcome Secretary Perdue's announcement today of a bold new initiative that seeks to stimulate innovation in the agricultural sector and expand the use of ethanol and other renewable fuels,” said Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the RFA. “Ethanol already has a proven track record for significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and toxic tailpipe pollution from the transportation sector, and our industry stands ready to do even more. Today's grain-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 35 to 50 percent compared to gasoline, and USDA reports that emerging technologies promise to boost that reduction to around 70 percent in just the next few years. With ethanol, we don’t have to wait and hope for major technological or economic breakthroughs; the fuel is available now at a low cost to drive decarbonization of our liquid fuels American farmers and ethanol producers have a long history of rising to meet ambitious goals and taking on daunting challenges, and we are excited and eager to work with the Administration to make this new vision a reality. Not only will today's initiative stimulate long-term economic growth to rural America, but will also enhance sustainability, improve environmental quality, and provide lower costs and greater consumer choice at the pump."

Growth Energy also welcomed the launch of the initiative and praised USDA’s recognition of the role homegrown biofuels have in achieving the department’s goals. “We applaud USDA for setting these clear goals for E15 and E30, and Growth Energy’s members are ready to deliver ahead of their timetable,” said Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy. “Biofuels are a critical piece of meeting the demands of our future transportation needs while lowering our carbon footprint. Today’s recognition by USDA and Secretary Perdue's unwavering support will help drive biofuel innovation in the coming years and decades. We look forward to continuing our longstanding working relationship with USDA to ensure that Americans across the country have expanded access to cleaner fuels like E15 and E30 at the pump.”

Additional information on the Agriculture Innovation Agenda is available on the USDA website.