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Farmers' groups reportedly hope that new chemical breakthroughs could help ease the pressure of a years-long slump in crop prices.

The Wall Street Journal reports that industry groups are promoting increases in the research that already helped turn corn and soybeans into everything from cosmetics to food packaging to vehicle seat cushions.

“We stepped back and said, ‘We need to find new uses,’” Paul Bertels of the National Corn Growers Association told the paper.

Supporters of bio-based chemicals suggested that they could whittle down the global oversupply that’s squeezed U.S. farmers in recent years.

(Image credit: Ford)

They also noted that customers tend to pay more for sustainable products and that, if more renewable materials were incorporated, manufacturers would not need to rely as much on unpredictable oil prices.

Critics, however, said that farmers were unlikely to see much of a financial windfall from that trend. Others noted that chemical uses account for a miniscule portion of the overall crop market, and that those crops will be needed to feed a growing global population in coming decades.

Rapidly scaling up new uses for crops, however, is not without precedent; the report noted that the percentage of the domestic corn harvest used for ethanol climbed from less than 1 percent in the early 1980s to nearly 40 percent last year.

“Ford isn’t running soy in their seats because they think it’s a neat thing to do,” Keith Cockerline of the United Soybean Board told the Journal. “It’s because they’re making money at it.”

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