Sen. Sherrod Brown: Ohio uniquely situated to benefit from ‘Grow it Here, Make it Here’ bill

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has teamed up with Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, to sponsor an initiative that would boost the biobased products industry to expand markets and create jobs.

The “Grow it Here, Make it Here” bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Carper (Delaware), Robert Casey (Pennsylvania), Chris Coons (Delaware), Kent Conrad (North Dakota), Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), and Jon Tester (Montana).

The initiative would increase access to capital for biobased manufacturers, improve marketing of biobased products, and further the commercialization of new agricultural innovations to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create jobs.

“We all know that Ohio farmers put food on tables, grow feed for livestock, and fill the tanks of vehicles across the nation. But increasingly, Ohio farmers grow products that are turned into plastics, lubricants and chemicals,” Brown said. “Ohio already has what it takes to lead the nation in this emerging field: a skilled workforce, strong agricultural sector, and culture of manufacturing and innovation.”

With nearly 130 Ohio companies already producing biobased products, the bill, introduced March 5, would support Ohio’s emerging biobased-manufacturing industry and encourage the development and manufacturing of new biobased products.

While the bill is a stand-alone measure right now, Brown said he hopes the bill will take the form of an amendment to the farm bill currently on the drawing board.

Green jobs

“It means jobs right here,” said Clark County, Ohio, farmer Allen Armstrong, who joined Brown March 8 on a news conference call.

“And the best part of this is that it’s renewable and it’s grown right here,” Armstrong added.

Armstrong said farmers, through their checkoffs, have invested in research here in Ohio, but “there’s a huge gap between research and commercialization.”

“We know that we have the products; we know that they work.”

Calls for labeling, credit

Also on the conference call was Cathy Horton, founder of Nutek Green, a Ohio-based manufacturer of soy-based cleaning products and lubricants.

Horton said when she started her company, she was committed to the Buckeye State. “It was going to be ‘Ohio or bust,’” she said. “Thirty-one soybean farmers funded my company, and they were all from Ohio.”

She hopes the new labeling effort that’s part of this bill brings meaning to the current hodgepodge of green labeling.

“It’s a joke,” she said. “I mean, absolutely a joke.”

Some of the products she goes up against have as little as 2 percent biobased ingredients compared to her 100 percent, and yet those products are allowed to be marketed and branded as “green.”

She also lauded the bill’s idea of improving access to loans or other means of capital, and the sections that work to narrow the gap between the idea concept and commercialization.

“We are worthy of such support, and have not only brought jobs to Ohio and elsewhere, but have made a new and safe beginning for our state in an industry that holds much promise.”

Biobased products are composed wholly or significantly of biological ingredients — waste streams and renewable plant, animal, marine, or forestry materials.

The bill consists of three parts:

– Strengthens the “Biopreferred Program,” which certifies and labels products so consumers can choose to purchase goods made of agriculture materials, and provides a preference for these products for government purchases.

USDA’s Biopreferred Program offers over 8,900 biobased products, including products made by 130 Ohio companies.

– Spurs the commercialization of new agricultural innovations by streamlining resources to help new biobased projects move from the development to the commercialization phase.

– Increases access to capital for bio-based manufacturers by expanding the USDA’s Biorefinery Loan Guarantee Program.

According to the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the biobased product and renewable chemical industry in 2008 employed 50,000 people in the United States, and more recent data indicates a near doubling of jobs.

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