Farm Bill, Alternative Energy Topics At Ag Outlook Conference

Richard Bogren  |  1/24/2007 4:54:28 AM

News Release Distributed 01/23/07

With the 2007 farm bill on the horizon, speakers at the 2007 AgOutlook conference in Baton Rouge talked about issues the new bill may involve as it makes its way through Congress this year.

About 200 members of the Louisiana agricultural community met in the Lod Cook Conference Center on the LSU campus Tuesday (Jan. 23) to hear experts provide their views on what might happen.

The AgOutlook conference had its genesis following the widespread drought in 2003 and has become an annual event sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Farm Bureau and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

"All commodities face challenging issues," said LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson. "The speakers were invited to shed light and engage in dialogue."

Louisiana agriculture is looking at interesting and trying times over the next couple of years, said Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson. "Agriculture is like the weather," he said. "Whatever conditions we have this year will be different next year."

The hot issues for the 2007 farm bill are the Conservation Reserve Program, strategic commodities and payment limitations, said David Orden of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at Virginia Tech University and a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

External forces that will influence the next farm bill include the control of Congress, the federal budget and energy prices, he added during his remarks to AgOutlook participants.

Orden reviewed historic farm policies and talked about the difficulties and relevance of new policies in what could be a new 2007 farm bill. Some industry observers are suggesting, however, that the provisions of the 2002 farm bill be extended for two years to five years.

"We have to remind ourselves that today’s policy issues are not unique or new," Orden said. "Extending the 2002 farm bill could save money."

Orden pointed to ethanol as a fairly heavily subsidized industry, and those subsidies create what economists would call a "distorting policy." Ethanol could drive up commodity prices, he said.

The growth of alternative energy – whether ethanol or bio-diesel – was a popular subject for the conference.

"If we’re going to be a major producer, we’re going to need more feedstocks than corn for ethanol," said Jamey Cline, an ethanol plant feasibility consultant with BBI International.

Dr. William Batchelor, head of the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department at Mississippi State University, said MSU’s Sustainable Energy Research Center focuses on feedstock, process and product research funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

"If you plant alternative crops, you need processes to convert them to ethanol and find value-added chemicals that come from the feedstocks stream," Batchelor said.

Ethanol production is "a growth industry," said Dr. John Urbanchuk, director of LECG, a global expert services firm that provides independent expert testimony, original authoritative studies and strategic advisory services.

Calling the ethanol industry "one of the most interesting case studies in American industry," Urbanchuk said the benefits of ethanol production include renewability and its environmental benefits, improvements to farm income and reduced dependence on imported oil.

He also cited significant advantages to rural communities from ethanol plants.

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Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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