January 20, 2020

President’s Rural Tour (Biofuels, Regulations); Farm Bill; and the Ag Economy


At a stop on the White House Rural Bus tour in Atkinson, Illinois yesterday, President Obama held a town hall meeting and was asked about a variety of issues, including a specific question about biofuels from an 11 year old, who inquired: “I was wondering, what are you going to do to keep [my grandpa’s] ethanol plant running?

In response, President Obama stated that, “I think those of you know that when I was a state senator, when I was a United States senator, I was a strong supporter of biofuels.  I continue to be a strong supporter of biofuelsTom Vilsack, as our Agriculture Secretary, continues to be a strong supporter of ethanol and biofuels.

I will say that the more we see the science, the more we want to find ways to diversify our biofuels so that we’re not just reliant on corn-based ethanol.  Now, we can do more to make corn-based ethanol more efficient than it is, and that’s where the research comes in.  And there are some wonderful research facilities in our own University of Illinois system that have done a lot to advance the science on this.”

The President added that, “But the key going forward is going to be, can we create biofuels out of switchgrass and wood chips and other materials that right now are considered waste materials?  And part of the reason that’s important is because, as I think most farmers here know, particularly if you’re in livestock farming, right now the costs of feed keep on going up and the costs of food as a consequence are also going up.  Only about 4 percent of that is accounted for by corn being diverted into ethanol, but as you see more and more demand placed on our food supplies around the world — as folks in China and folks in India start wanting to eat more meat and commodity prices start going up, it’s going to be important for us to figure out how can we make biofuels out of things that don’t involve our food chain.

“And so hopefully your grandfather, with his ethanol plant, is starting to work with our Department of Agriculture to find new approaches to the biofuel industry.  But this is a huge area of support.  This is another example of where we’ve got to make sure that our budget continues to invest in basic research, and that costs money.  And if all we’re doing is cutting and we’re not thinking about investments, then over time we’re going to fall behind to countries like Brazil, where they’ve already got a third, I think, of their auto fleet operates on biofuels.  Well, that’s — there’s no reason why we should fall behind a country like Brazil when it comes to developing alternative energy.  I want to be number one in alternative energy, and that’s good for the farm economy.”

(An audio replay of yesterday’s exchange is available here, MP3- 3:48).