Marriage of energy and agriculture creates a new buzz

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LONDON, Ohio – Whether you were walking through the exhibits or taking in an educational session at this year’s Farm Science Review, one thing was clear: It’s a good time to be in agriculture and a lot of that has to do with energy technology.
Solar energy. Wind power. Anaerobic digesters. Biofuels and biomass. Carbon credits. Energy alternatives.
It’s huge. USDA’s Gale Buchanan, undersecretary for research, education and economics, called this energy boom “a new paradigm for agriculture.”
Buchanan, former dean of the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, spoke during the Sept. 18 Vice President’s Luncheon, hosted by Bob Moser, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
The USDA leader called the intersection of energy and agriculture “exciting” and predicted it will dwarf every other area of agricultural development over the last 200 years.
Ohio could be poised to lead this development because of its mix of natural resources, technology and capital, Buchanan said. “This is a great agricultural state. This is also a great industrial state.”
“Agriculture will be front and center in this effort.”
OSU cheerleader. Incoming OSU president E. Gordon Gee, who stepped to the luncheon podium to enthusiastic applause, returned the love.
Remembering his first trip to the Farm Science Review 17 years ago, Gee said he learned a lot about Ohio during that visit.
“It gave me a sense of this place, this people,” Gee said.
After all, he added, “we are a land grant university.”
“It’s the power of that passion that I’ve missed.”
Gee was Ohio State’s president from 1990 to 1997 and served as chancellor at Vanderbilt University since 2000. He returned to lead OSU this fall.
Gee said the vice president’s luncheon, which draws the “who’s who” in Ohio agriculture, is “a gathering of a belief system that will continue to drive this great university.”
And without a great university, he continued, “one cannot have a great state.”
We need agriculture. That segued into Gee’s introduction of Gov. Ted Strickland, who also voiced his commitment to Ohio agriculture.
“Ohio cannot be all that it can be without agriculture,” Strickland said. “We need to value agriculture and understand its importance.”
He said the creation of his Ohio Food Policy Council underscores his commitment to improve the state’s systems of food production and distribution.
Energy economy. Strickland also used to podium to tout the Ohio Broadband Council and the Broadband Ohio Network, which he created in July by executive order with a goal of expanding access to high-speed Internet service in all 88 counties, and his energy policies.
In August, Strickland introduced his Energy, Jobs and Progress plan to generate additional energy and encourage investment in transmission and distribution of that energy. The plan also spotlights advanced energy technology and renewable energy sources, pushing the use of alternative fuels and seeking a $1 billion investment in “next generation” energy technology.
He made the link to agriculture through energy sources like anaerobic digesters and ethanol plants.
“This is a new day for agriculture and energy can help lead the way,” Strickland said.
Not so fast. But Purdue University ag economist Allan Gray said some of the current influx of federal funding at energy research, particularly cellulosic ethanol, is just “throwing dollars at science when we don’t know if we can do it.”
Gray joined Ohio State ag economists Carl Zulauf and Brent Sohngen in a farm bill debate Sept. 18 during the Review.
He said any meaningful energy policy will not come from the farm bill, adding the energy title of the farm bill is “almost a waste of time.”
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

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