SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Gov. Mike Rounds criticized the federal government for delaying a decision on allowing a 15 percent ethanol blend in gasoline during a conference Wednesday on using technology and research to expand South Dakota's agriculture economy.
Executives at the Governor's Ag Development Summit talked about scientific and biotechnological research that can be used to grow more grain and create new fuel sources.
In his welcoming address, Rounds said the world will need more food and fuel so breakthroughs in the laboratory allow the state's farmers and ranchers to produce more with less.
Rounds chastised the federal government for promoting the use of renewable fuels while the Environmental Protection Agency postponed for a second time a decision on whether the ethanol blend in gas can go from 10 percent to 15 percent.
"It's just ridiculous to have this kind of delay in that type of an important decision-making process," Rounds said.
He noted that annual ethanol production in South Dakota has grown 600 percent since 2002. The 15 percent level would assure a continued and expanded market for ethanol, he said.
The EPA, which had been expected to decide by this month if U.S. car engines can handle the higher concentration, has said initial tests "look good" and should be completed by the end of September. The ethanol industry says the 15 percent blend will not hurt engine performance, while the refining industry, small engine manufacturers and some environmental groups have argued against an increase.
Monsanto Co. executive David Fischhoff said the world population is growing and wants more animal protein in its diet, something that will drive up the demand for grains to be used as livestock feed. That will require higher yields because the amount of land available for crop production is shrinking, said Fischhoff, vice president of technology strategy and development at Monsanto.
Average corn yields in the U.S. have doubled in the past 40 years to around 165 bushels per acre last year. The same growth rate could mean 200 bushels per acre by 2030 but perhaps even more because of expected advancements in farming practices, plant breeding and biotechnology.
"I think the possibility exists, and really it's a credible possibility ... that we could get yields to go up close to 300 bushels an acre in that same time frame," Fischhoff said.
Mark Matlock, senior vice president of research for Archer Daniels Midland Co., said biofuels such as ethanol will help fill a growing need for energy in developing countries.
The idea of using grains for more than food and clothing has been around since the 1920s and '30s but didn't get far while petroleum prices were stable, he said. Now, as oil prices periodically spike, there's a move to use renewables in manufacturing or as fuels.
"Every year we can grow another crop of soybeans, another crop of corn, another crop of wheat, so if we can use these feedstocks we can create products that we will always have in civilization," Matlock said.
Increasing the use of renewable farm products will require innovation to catch up with petroleum; efficient use of water, chemicals and fertilizers on the farm, and investment in infrastructure to transport, process and store larger crops, he said.