The ag policy think tank known as Farm Foundation has announced the winners of its competition to look for long-term solutions to the major questions of how to provide food, feed, fiber and fuel to a growing world, and biofuels are the subjects of at least two of the winners.
Last December, Farm Foundation announced its 30-Year Challenge report that identifies six major areas of challenges agriculture will face as it works to provide food, feed, fiber and fuel to a growing world. The six areas are: global financial markets and recession; global food security; global energy security; climate change; competition for natural resources; and global economic development. This past spring, Farm Foundation announced a competition for essays to come up with some solutions for those challenges (see my post from April 30, 2009). Two different sets of researchers, Chad Hellwinckel and Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, both of the University of Tennessee, and Loni Kemp of Kemp Consulting, were named winners.
The entry from Hellwinckel and De La Torre Ugarte focused on the role of biofuels in agriculture policy:
Viewing agriculture simply as a potential source for meeting the greater economy’s fuel demand will not guarantee the necessary transition, and could even exacerbate soil destruction, increase agriculture’s input consumption and lead to food shortages. If appropriate, biofuels could be a vital part of long-term agricultural policy, but agriculture should not simply become a part of energy policy.
Biofuels demand could be a catalyst creating the right conditions for a transition to a truly regenerative agriculture, particularly if that demand moderately increases all commodity net returns. If crafted within a larger agricultural policy matrix, biofuels policy can be part of the solution.
Kemp’s entry looked at overhauling the current biofuels tax credit system:
What is missing from current tax policy is a requirement for actual performance in delivering expected environment and climate benefits. To remedy this, the mix of existing federal biofuel tax credits—including the ethanol blender’s tax credit—must be reformed into a unified performance-based tax credit. The actual level of payment per gallon would vary, according to the sustainability performance of the biorefinery.
You might not agree with every thing in these ideas, but that’s the point of Farm Foundation: encouraging debate on issues instead of just prompting everyone to sing from the same sheet of music:
“It is our intent that the winning entries will contribute to constructive and deliberative debate of the policies that may be needed to meet the challenges ahead,” says Farm Foundation President Neil Conklin. “However, Farm Foundation does not endorse or advocate any of the concepts presented in these entries. Farm Foundation has a 76-year history of objectivity. We do not lobby or advocate positions. The competition entries are no exception.
“We encourage public and private decision makers to review these policy proposals and consider the concepts in light of challenges facing agriculture and the food system,” Conklin added.