Food and Fuel Forum Tackles Tough Issues

Panelists agree biofuels not main culprit of food prices.

Published on: Oct 27, 2008

A forum to address the national debate over food and fuel was held Oct. 23 in Kansas City. Charged with the mission to help enhance a greater understanding of differing perspectives, the event brought together biofuel proponents and food use proponents for a lively discussion. Hosted by the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City at the American Royal, it drew 150 people, including many Missouri agricultural leaders. Mike Adams, host of Agri-Talk, moderated the panel discussion.

"The rapid emergence of biofuels has brought changes to the agricultural economy that may be unrivaled," says Bob Petersen, chairman of the Agricultural Business Council of Kansas City. "This trend has a huge impact on agricultural and food businesses, as well as academic and research institutions here in the Heartland. They will be among the nation's solution-makers."

Featured speakers included Thomas Dorr, USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development; Morton Sosland, editor-in-chief, Sosland Publishing Co.; and Randy Schnepf, agricultural economist with the Congressional Research Service.

Blake Hurst, vice president of Missouri Farm Bureau and a farmer from Tarkio, served on the biofuel proponent panel with Ken McCauley, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association and a farmer from White Cloud, Kan. Sharing their food use proponent perspective were Robb MacKie, president of the American Bakers Association, and Dan Gustafson of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Although there were disagreements between the two panels on issues such as U.S. renewable fuel mandates and ethanol import bans, all four panel members made the point that biofuels are not the main culprit for rising food prices. For the United States to provide ample food and fuel, the consensus was that it will take an improved long-range national energy policy, a concerted effort in research to boost crop yields, export market expansion, plus economic and environmental sustainability.

"The real factors behind rising food costs include tight global grain stocks, export bans of several foreign countries, and record energy costs," says CRS ag economist Randy Schnepf. "It appears the volatile corn and wheat markets have adjusted down, for now. The key constraints on global grain stocks remain to be land available for agricultural production and crop yields."