The congressional theatrics to reach agreement on 2024 federal agency budgets and spending authorizations has stolen focus from other important deadlines – including reauthorization of the farm bill. Some program authorities expired over the weekend while others will close with this year's harvests.

The farm bill energy and bioeconomy programs are especially important right now for an array of reasons. Farmers and rural communities are trying to survive in a rebounding but still challenging economy. They deserve jobs and economic opportunities that sustain farms, families, and small towns. Embracing American energy and innovation will help America's agriculture sector thrive, improve our global competitiveness, and enhance environmental benefits.

Farmers have been generating energy and bioproducts for more than two decades with support from farm bill programs. The Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program can help rural America maximize existing energy production and build new markets for biobased products, renewable chemicals, and new renewable fuels like sustainable aviation fuel –which the airline industry desperately needs to lower emissions in that sector. That will be a key to economic competitiveness.

According to a new DOE report, Pathway to Commercial Liftoff – Decarbonizing Chemicals & Refining, chemicals represent around 9% of all U.S. exports – the largest export sector for the United States. With 12% growth potential by 2030, reducing emissions in chemical refining “is critical to bolstering American competitiveness, retaining the ability to sell in global markets,” according to the report. Biobased production is a key innovation for reducing emissions and opening new markets.

Homegrown energy and products will also enable farmers to adapt to changing economic and weather conditions, keeping farm operations productive and profitable. The Rural Energy for America Program has helped more than 22,000 small businesses in rural communities invest in critical infrastructure that provides dependable, localized energy that eases pressures on the electric grid. Diverse energy sources improve the reliability of energy while lowering costs.

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Diverse market opportunities for energy and bioproducts can also help rural communities maintain a strong workforce, cultivate the next generation of farmers, and prevent the further loss of family farms. From 2011 to 2020, the share of U.S. farmland operated by small family operations fell from 52% to 48%, according to USDA. The Biobased Markets – or “BioPreferred” – Program supports development of new market opportunities for agricultural products that adds $470 billion and 1.65 million direct jobs to the U.S. economy.

A vibrant agricultural economy that includes production of renewable energy and manufacturing of biobased products will keep America strong and competitive on the world stage. This year, Brazil is set to surpass the United States as the top corn exporter. China has been a fickle trading partner for many years and the fluctuation in demand is forcing U.S. farmers to find new outlets for crops. American farmers must increase innovation and development of new products and markets to remain competitive with other countries.

Congress has an obligation to assist in ensuring the agricultural sector and rural communities have access to reliable affordable clean energy and opportunities for economic growth. Reauthorizing and revitalizing successful energy and bioeconomy programs as part of a robust farm bill can help those communities thrive in today’s economy. In turn, that will help protect our nation’s food security, national security, and environmental health. 

Lloyd Ritter, Esq., is a partner in Green Capitol LLC.

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