Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced a strategy to help farmers and ranchers deal with higher energy costs and increase production of domestic fuels. As part of the plan – USDA is intensifying efforts to support the development, production and use of renewable fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, through an array of research, loan and grant programs. The Secretary has directed Rural Development to maximize the use of approximately $1.4 billion available this year in various business and electric loan and loan guarantee authorities. More specifically, Johanns directed these funds be used to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities efficiently create renewable energy systems and businesses. Since 2001, USDA Rural Development has awarded nearly $290 million in renewable energy funding. These funds support renewable energy projects such as ethanol plants, wind and solar power units that create jobs and spur growth in rural communities. The Forest Service and other USDA agencies will intensify their support of renewable fuels research, development and use. Click here to listen to Johanns’ comments about ethanol and biodiesel made during Wednesday’s tele-conference from Washington DC.