Humans began cultivating crops thousands of years ago. Almost as soon as the first seeds were planted, the need for continuous improvement became clear as civilizations began to truly understand agriculture’s enormous potential. Today, with the onset of new technologies, products and processes, producers continue this evolution. It’s never been more important for farmers to embrace innovation. As margins continue to narrow, climate conditions worsen, and unrest with global trade markets and domestic politics remain, the need for science in agriculture is more necessary now than ever.
Advances in agriculture have allowed American farmers to provide more food, fuel and fiber than ever before without increasing the footprint of cropland. They’re also doing it in a way that is more sustainable and uses fewer resources like water, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
But farmers still need a market for their product. That’s where biofuels come in.
Biofuels offer the domestic demand farmers need to remain profitable even in challenging conditions. Even more importantly, the partnership between agriculture and biofuels can be the solution to one of the biggest challenges the world has ever known: climate change.
The USDA recently hosted the 96th Annual Agricultural Outlook Forum which was themed ‘The Innovation Imperative: Shaping the Future of Agriculture.’ U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue kicked off the event by announcing specific goals the USDA has identified to spur innovation in agriculture to meet the needs of a growing population while decreasing the industry’s effects on the climate without increasing U.S. food production. “The USDA will do our part to stimulate innovation so that American agriculture can work toward the shared goal of increasing U.S. agricultural production by 40% while cutting the environmental footprint of U.S. agriculture in half by 2050.” To meet this important objective, Secretary Perdue also announced a goal to increase biofuel production efficiency and competitiveness to achieve market-driven blend rates of 15% of transportation fuels in 2030 and 30% of transportation fuels by 2050.
Following Secretary Perdue’s announcement, Jeff Broin, founder and CEO of POET, the world’s largest producer of biofuels, presented on agriculture’s role in the climate revolution. Broin served on the plenary panel discussing innovation in agriculture alongside John Newton, Chief Economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation, Frank Yiannas, Deputy Commissioner of Food Policy and Response for the Food and Drug Administration and Shari Rogge-Fidler President of the Farm Foundation.
Secretary Perdue’s announcement is a signal the administration understands the important role biofuels play in combating climate change. This belief is one that has shaped Broin and POET’s mission to change the world. During the plenary session, Broin presented about the key role of agriculture and biofuels to mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. Broin argued that climate change is a crisis facing the world today, not generations from now, and the world needs practical solutions to combat the problem as quickly as possible.
“I feel there is only one near term choice. We need to return to our roots—literally,” said Broin. “We need to stop extracting oil from the Earth and we need to return to agriculture. In the future, I believe ag will provide the food, fuel and fiber to sustain all life on the planet. It’s a little known fact that starch and cellulose, which my company processes, are the building blocks for almost everything that comes from a barrel of oil and the byproduct is food—protein, oil and micronutrients we can use to feed people all over the planet.”
Broin ensures that POET maintains a commitment to using innovation to reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and petroleum-based products. With over 100 patents and employing a research staff of 100, POET continues to be a leader in the creation of new, innovative products and processes that rely on agriculture and bio-based products. POET team members have technical skills that range from microbiology and biochemistry to chemical engineering. Since its inception in 1987, POET’s mission has centered on developing technologies to efficiently produce sustainable biofuels and oil alternatives to clean the air and reverse the dangerous impacts of climate change.
One example of POET’s commitment to innovation and sustainability is the development of the BPX “no-cook” process. “Through the BPX process, POET can convert corn kernel fiber into cellulosic ethanol,” said Dave Bushong, Senior Vice President of Research at POET Research. This process has proven to be a valuable game-changer in everything from the quality of animal feed to corn oil. “Because the process uses natural enzymes in a patented fermentation process, POET can efficiently convert corn fiber into ethanol,” said Bushong. The state of California recognized this process as a low-carbon-intensity fuel. This recognition will open more markets for corn growers and allow more Americans greater access to cleaner-burning ethanol.
Just like the agricultural industry, POET will never stop innovating. To prepare the next generation to support agricultural and the new bio-economy, POET recently announced a $2 million gift for the construction of the Raven Precision Agriculture Center at South Dakota State University (SDSU). POET and SDSU have a strong history of collaboration on innovative research projects and training the next generation to use agriculture to solve the world’s most pressing issues like climate change is more important now than ever.
In addition to the construction of the facility, POET and SDSU will partner to develop academic programs in bioprocessing so SDSU graduates will have a robust understanding of how biofuels and agriculture can drive change across the world. SDSU President Barry Dunn said, “Partnering with the leading biofuels company in the world creates unique opportunities to not only grow precision agriculture at SDSU but also expand the industry into areas where change and growth can have a positive impact on the environment and society as a whole. Educating and training the next generation of ag producers, scientists, engineers and others to meet the challenges and opportunities will define the future of agriculture and the biofuels industry in the state, region and the world.”
Innovative bio-based tools, products and applications developed by our universities and produced from domestic agriculture commodities can keep farmers, our economy, and our environment thriving for generations to come, and POET is proud to be on the forefront of agriculture’s role in the climate revolution.