- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

ST. LOUIS | The argument over using crops to make biofuels is about to get a little louder, courtesy of a new group formed by some of the biggest agribusiness companies in the world.

The new group - formed by Monsanto Co., Archer Daniels Midland, Deere & Co. and DuPont Co. - announced Thursday that it will use national advertisements and lobbyists on Capitol Hill to build the case for using crops to make fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, even as grain prices climb worldwide.

Just a niche market three years ago, the biofuels industry has blossomed because of federal mandates requiring the United States to use 9 billion gallons of alternative fuel annually by 2009. The mandates are under attack from a wide variety of groups who blame the new industry for rising food prices that have sparked riots and hoarding from Haiti to Southeast Asia.

Organizers of the newly formed Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy said Thursday they want to change the debate about biofuels. Their plan is to convince consumers and politicians that both goals can be met at once by increasing agricultural productivity.

“I think the only path forward is one that meets both food and energy security demands,” said Monsanto’s Chief Technology Officer Robert Fraley. “I think we can add a component of science and technological perspective to the discussion.”

Monsanto hopes to double the yield-per-acre of crops like corn and soybeans by 2030, he said. Pioneer Hi-Bred, a division of DuPont, plans to boost yields of its seeds by 40 percent within a decade.

The alliance plans to lobby federal lawmakers to keep current ethanol mandates while increasing funding for agricultural research and development that could increase crop yields. It also plans to sway consumers by telling them new technologies will make it possible to grow enough food to affordably fill gas tanks and grocery carts.

Companies behind the alliance stand to benefit from any increase in farming and grain consumption, whether it be increased use of Archer Daniels Midland’s new ethanol plants, Monsanto’s seeds or Deere & Cos. farming equipment.

The alliance didn’t say how much it will spend on the campaign, beyond saying the project has a budget worth several million dollars.

But even that kind of cash doesn’t guarantee Congress won’t revisit the wisdom of biofuels mandates. The alliance faces opposition from well-funded agricultural interests that are suffering under rising food costs, including the American Meat Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA).

The GMA is already funding a campaign to highlight the negative effect of rising grain costs for average consumers, and wants Congress to reconsider the federal ethanol mandates.

The GMA isn’t swayed by the idea of waiting for agricultural productivity to improve, said Scott Faber, the group’s vice president for federal affairs.

“While improvements in global agriculture are vital, this work must not distract us from the fact that while we wait, millions of people will be pushed deeper into hunger and poverty because we are diverting more and more food and feed supplies to producing ethanol,” Mr. Faber said in a statement. “Congress and the administration can take immediate action to curb hunger by revisiting these flawed policies.”

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