An energized summit was held this week – literally. Not only was the discussion lively, the topic itself was about the current and future energy needs of the agriculture industry and new ways farmers can help contribute to energy production. The Southeast Energy Alliance (SEA) held its 2012 Southeast Ag-Energy Summit on Monday, Dec. 17. The event gathered up regional Farm Bureau representatives, politicians, agriculture association representatives and others to strike up a dialogue about the importance of affordable, reliable energy, challenges of renewable fuel and electricity, and more.
"Agriculture is very dependent on energy," says SEA executive director Adam Waldeck. There is a ton of opportunity for them to be energy producers as well."
Four panels held at the summit focused on a variety of topics, including the large energy needs of the agricultural sector.
"Twenty-five to 30% of our production costs are tied directly to energy," says panelist Larry McKenzie with the South Carolina Farm Bureau. "Farmers have to make decisions looking 20 years down the road. We need a strong national energy policy so that our farmers can have certainty to make decisions about their energy use."
Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Balck says the agriculture industry is innovative enough to overcome potential energy pitfalls.
"Sometimes we think of agriculture being in yesteryear," he says. "But it is as technologically advanced an industry as any other. And energy production is an important part of that $70 billion industry."
The Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) was another hot topic at the summit. Panelist Michel Formica with the National Pork Producers Council was asked if he thinks there will be any legislation to repeal or reform RFS. He responded that he was hopeful, but focused instead on the EPS’s waiver authority.
"As far as EPA granting a waiver, there will be another round of requests in 2013," he says. "EPA has admitted they see the economics of a waiver changing once we hit the blend wall in 2013."
Charles Hall, with the North Carolina Soybean Growers Association, adds that much of the national debate over the RFS has centered on corn ethanol. However, soybean bio-diesel is another critical component and he says he does not want to see legislative attempts to remove any bio-diesel requirements in the RFS.
With the summit concluded, Waldeck hopes more of the key players are now on the same page moving forward.
"If we can get a little consensus, that would be a very good outcome," he says.
For more information, visit www.SoutheastEnergyAlliance.org.