Vilsack says step up biofuels marketing

Mar 9, 2012
by DTN

The biofuels industry is losing public and political support because it has not done a good job marketing itself, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa and a staunch defender of the ethanol industry, got a standing ovation after his speech at the annual Renewable Fuels Association’s (RFA) ethanol conference in Iowa at the end of February.

He said the industry should stop playing defense in most of the cooked-up controversies over renewable fuels, including the “myth” about ethanol using up corn meant for food and fresh claims over whether the Renewable Fuel Standard is necessary.

Instead, the industry and RFA in particular should step up efforts to polish their image by presenting scientific data and compelling benefits Americans often derive from biofuels that many people aren’t aware of.

“We need to better market this industry with a positive message [such as] consumer choice [over which fuel to use], paying less at the pump and people getting jobs and the more opportunities now available to rural America,” he said. “What is at stake is a [fight over the] value system and it starts with agriculture. We must market what agriculture does to America.”

He said ethanol has reduced the price of gasoline at the pump by almost $1 a gallon while reducing imports of foreign oil from countries that are either enemies of the U.S. or do not share the U.S.’ value system.

Vilsack said about 84,000 additional jobs were created last year because of what farmers and biofuels producers do, and the U.S. last year had a trade surplus in agricultural products, with the country posting a record $136.4 billion in exports.

He said farmers had record incomes of $100 billion last year, the highest in four decades, in part because of selling corn and other feedstock to the renewable fuels industry.

Ethanol is not taking away corn meant for food because American farm productivity is up due to efficiency, Vilsack said. The ethanol industry shouldn’t let their opponents in the oil and gas industry win by turning public and political support away from fuel ethanol, he said.

Vilsack said USDA will continue to work with partner agencies within the government to promote the expansion of the biofuels market. One such partnership program has seen the U.S. Navy start using biofuels in its fighter jets, a program that could be expanded to the commercial aviation industry, he said.

USDA is also trying to help fund installation of flex or blender pumps across the country.

Vilsack said USDA encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to grant an E15 waiver request for model year 2001 and newer vehicles as well as to approve testing the effects of E15 on health, both of which have been done. He urged that E15 now be registered after the latest EPA action.— George Orwel, DTN