St. Louis: The argument over using crops to make biofuels is about to get a little louder, courtesy of a new group formed by some of the biggest agribusiness companies in the world.
The new group formed by Monsanto Co., Archer Daniels Midland, Deere & Co. and DuPont Co. announced it will use national advertisements and lobbyists on Capitol Hill to build the case that new technologies can make it feasible to produce crop-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, even as grain prices climb worldwide.
Just a niche market three years ago, the biofuels industry has blossomed because of federal mandates requiring the United States to use 9 billion gallons of alternative fuel annually by 2009.
The mandates are under attack from a wide variety of groups that blame the new industry for rising food prices that have sparked riots and hoarding everywhere from Haiti to southeast Asia.
Organizers want to change the debate about biofuels. Their plan is to convince consumers and politicians that both goals can be met at once by increasing agricultural productivity.
“I think the only path forward is one that meets both food and energy security demands,” said Monsanto’s chief technology officer Robert Fraley. “I think we can add a component of science and technological perspective to the discussion.”
Monsanto hopes to double the yield-per-acre (yield-per-hectare) of crops like corn and soybeans by 2030, he said. Pioneer Hi-Bred, a division of DuPont, plans to boost yields of its seeds by 40% within a decade.
The alliance plans to lobby federal lawmakers to keep current ethanol mandates while increasing funding for agricultural research and development that could increase crop yields. It also plans to try to sway consumers by telling them new technologies will make it possible to grow enough food to affordably fill gas tanks and grocery carts.
Companies behind the alliance stand to benefit from any increase in farming and grain consumption, whether it be increased use of Archer Daniels Midland’s new ethanol plants, Monsanto’s seeds or Deere & Cos. farming equipment.
The alliance faces opposition from well-funded agricultural interests that are suffering under rising in food costs, including the American Meat Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
The GMA is already funding a campaign to highlight the negative effect of rising grain costs for average consumers, and it wants Congress to reconsider the federal ethanol mandates.
About 22% of the US corn crop went to produce biofuels this year, which is virtually the same as last year, according to the National Corn Growers Association. A full 33% of this year’s harvest, or 3.9 billion bushels, is expected to go toward ethanol production.