The upcoming overhaul of the U.S. farm program will put more emphasis on developing renewable fuels as a way to boost farm income, leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee said this week.
Chairman Saxby Chambliss, Georgia Republican, said he wanted to "greatly expand" the Agriculture Department's grant and loan programs for research into renewable energy and to finance projects like ethanol plants.
"I think this (energy) is going to be one of the key things in the next farm bill," said Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the Democratic leader on the committee. "I think it I'd going to be the next place to look for income for farmers."
Long a popular cause in farm country, fuel ethanol use is skyrocketing, aided by the 2005 law that guarantees the homegrown fuel a share of the motor fuel market.
President George W. Bush has called for wider use of renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, to reduce reliance on imported oil.
During separate appearances before a meeting held by the North American Agricultural Journalists professional group, Chambliss and Harkin said they wanted to broaden the number of crops used in distilling ethanol. Chambliss mentioned sugar and switchgrass while Harkin cited the prospect for ethanol from cellulose -- corn stalks, woody plants and wood chips.
Rep. Collin Peterson, Democratic leader on the House Agriculture Committee, said he expected to see a request soon for a large subsidy for making ethanol from sugar. It was "one of the dumbest ideas I've heard around this town in a while," Peterson told NAAJ.
"This is a bad idea I'm trying to expose as a bad idea," said Peterson. He said U.S. sugar costs too much to be an economical feedstock for ethanol. The proposed subsidy rate of $1.50 a gallon would be nearly triple the excise tax break allowed for ethanol, now made mainly from corn (maize).
Yet Peterson applauded the potential of locally owned ethanol plants to be a source of income and jobs for rural communities. He suggested Congress should try to order all gasoline service stations to have a pump for E85, fuel that is 85 percent ethhanol ans 15 percent gasoline.