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Solving energy problems will take a ‘team effort’

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Collaboration will remain a crucial part of the path to independent energy usage and lowered fuel costs, says an official with the USDA.

Ross Davidson, senior policy advisor on energy policy to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, said there are a lot of separate interests groups eager to jumpstart new domestic energy markets. But he cautioned, “It’s got to be a team effort. We must work together.

“We are all running around doing our own thing because there are a lot of good ideas popping up. But, when it comes to implementation, we have to align ourselves and make sure we focus our energy together.”

Davidson was a guest speaker during a seminar at the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show.

John Swayze, Southern Cotton Ginners Association president, said when event organizers discussed months ago what should be the topic at this year’s seminar, high energy costs was the consensus choice.

“Last year the cup de jour was Asian soybean rust, this year for farmers it’s energy,” he said.

Davidson said Johanns has a special interest in exorbitant energy costs and their far-reaching impact on farmers.

Davidson recalled a similar period in 1980, when prices skyrocketed, and the general public spoke loudly about pursuing alternative fuels.

“Here we are 25 years later and it’s déjà vu all over again. This time energy problems are going to stick, now the future will continue to offer high fuel costs and the interest this time in renewable energy is here to stay,” he predicted.

Davidson said one of the reasons why fuel energy prices will not rescind as they have done in the past is because of two emerging economies: China and India.

“China is growing leaps and bounds in transportation. They are adding cars at a rapid rate and will suck up a lot of the world’s oil supplies,” he said.

Relaying a forecast from a major crude oil company’s survey, Davidson said Exxon Mobile Oil Company projects considerable crude oil consumption growth in the United States and Japan over the next 25 years. However, the surprise amount of growth is anticipated to occur in the Asian Pacific Rim region.

He said environmental and energy-wise policies have emerged in recent years to address the problems, but high energy-costs in the early 1980s spurred many sectors of the economy to push for efficiency without necessarily getting encouragement from the government via financial incentives.

“In agriculture, we have reduced our energy a significant amount: Historically, from 1910 until the early ’80s, energy needed to create ag products increased from 5 percent of expenses to 17 percent.

“But starting in the ’80s with the energy price shock, we declined to about 11 percent up until 2000. However, the price spikes have reduced efficiency, and we are now back up to 14 percent. The trend has reversed and we are all feeling it.”

Davidson said farmers can and should pursue precision agriculture, improved irrigation and pesticide management, and perhaps switch to less energy intensive crops or varieties.

Another suggestion is to do an energy audit on the farm, he said.

Davidson said it will likely be another two decades before U.S. foreign energy-dependency and high fuel prices are not major topics.

The country, he said, must, however, take advantage of policy, research and loan initiatives being presented by the USDA, working in accord with the nation’s federal energy and transportation departments.

“In 2006, a record $400 million was spent on renewable energy, and $40 million for renewable energy research and another $420 million for other related things,” he said.

“There is a lot of money going out the door and we are looking for the best projects.”

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