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Blog: USDA's commitment to sustainable energy

By Susanne Retka Schill | October 03, 2016

A recent USDA post, Powering America with a More Sustainable Energy Future, gives a sweeping overview of the transformation in agriculture as it moves beyond just growing food to also providing homegrown renewable energy.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has been highlighting the USDA’s investments in the future of America in a series of posts since January.  In the most recent post, Vilsack ties together the wide-ranging investments the agency has made in renewable fuels infrastructure, biobased products, solar, wind, anaerobic digestion and energy efficiency, saying “These USDA investments have created remarkable momentum in rural economic growth.” 

It’s a good read, pulling together statistics and photos and fact boxes on the various sectors. Sure, it might be considered self-serving to be pointing out the agency’s accomplishments when coming to the close of the current leadership’s tenure. But in a season of negativity, it also serves as a great way to highlight positive achievements and even, perhaps, drum up some enthusiasm for the vision of the future shared by so many.  

After all, the most recent update to the billion ton report reaffirms that there’s huge untapped resources. “As the U.S. Department of Energy has documented, the United States has enough diversity in biomass resources that more than a billion tons of biomass annually could be sustainably grown and harvested to displace up to a third of existing fossil fuel use. This could double or even triple current levels of biomass use for bioenergy or biobased products — an untapped potential that provides almost limitless opportunities for rural economies.”

The article summarizes the impact of programs that offer support for growers and landowners, and producers of renewable energy feedstocks. It recounts the development of the biobased economy and the support for biofuels and biofuels infrastructure. For those of us focused on ethanol, it’s interesting to read about the progress in aviation fuels and to learn more about the other renewable sectors, like electric generation.

USDA’s work in the energy sector is relatively new. Other chapters in the series of articles talk about the many other areas USDA touches from conservation and forestry to food and nutrition to exports and strengthening the rural economy, and many topics in between.