CUTC: USDA official defends corn-based ethanol

By Susanne Retka Schill | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 5, 2008 at 12:57 p.m. CST

Eventually the good data in defense of biofuels will prevail, the USDA undersecretary for rural development told a gathering of researchers and industry representatives June 2 at the 2008 Corn Utilization and Technology Conference in Kansas City, Mo. True to his roots as a former corn farmer, and officer of state and national corn growers associations, Thomas Dorr praised the National Corn Growers Association and took on ethanol's critics in his opening remarks.

Dorr admitted to the conference attendees that the USDA is playing catch up in the present controversy surrounding biofuels. "We've been trying to fact check and have the economists run the numbers," Dorr said. The conclusion that has been reached is that while USDA analysts anticipate a 40 percent increase in world food prices in the coming year, increased demand for biofuel feedstocks is responsible for only 3 percent of that increase. He added that one widely overlooked cause of the increase in global food prices is the robust, growing world economy. "This is a success story and it cannot be over emphasized," Dorr said. "In the end, economic growth is a good thing." The economy has faced shifts before, and once overcoming the transitional issues, he said, "we've emerged more prosperous. We've done it before and we'll do it again. We will build the new carbohydrate economy."

Dorr called for the media to take a sober, second look, at the contribution biofuels can play in bolstering the United State's economic security by diversifying its energy supply and help meeting the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases. "Biofuels are an important part of the solution," he said. "Someday hydrogen fuel cells and improved batteries will become available, but biofuels are here now."

Dorr commended the NCGA for being ahead of the curve, supporting basic science, genetic research and progressive product development. "There is an agricultural and economic revolution underway," he said, predicting that the traditional food, feed and fiber contribution of agriculture will be expanded to include fuel and feedstock. "Even for those of us involved for the past 30 years, we are still in the front end of the process," Dorr added. "We can't predict where we will be in 10, 20, and certainly not in 30 years."