Quit blaming ethanol and other biofuels for higher food prices, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ed Shafer at a conference last week in Kansas City for business journalists. The real culprit – the “elephant in the room” — is high-priced oil, which is driving up transportation, fertilizer, animal feed, and other food production costs. During his talk, Secretary Shafer voiced strong support for biofuels, saying that ethanol is lowering costs for U.S. drivers. He also pointed out that despite floods in the Midwest, the U.S. was expected to have its second-best production corn crop ever – an estimated 12 billion bushels’ worth – and its fourth-best year in soybeans. This, he said, “should ease pressure on food prices.”
Secretary Shafer talked up the administration’s support for renewable fuels, citing broad initiatives the USDA and other federal agencies have in place to get the renewable energy industry off the ground. He referred to new ethanol plants in South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming and his favorite – a plant in Florida that made ethanol from orange peels.
If the administration was so gung ho on ethanol, why then, asked a reporter, had the Republican Party’s platform plank backed away from ethanol mandates? The good-humored secretary admitted that he was as flummoxed as the reporter but then attempted to explain.
The Republicans, he said, “went back to their roots,” saying that they wanted to use government to pursue good public policy without telling people what to do. The mandates, he said, were “really a goal, a target.” Besides, he said, as a former governor he never recalled ever seeing any platform plank reduced to actual public policy.
It was a nice save. The 29th Secretary of Agriculture, a two-term governor of North Dakota, was sworn into office in January of this year. He was eager to return to “life in the vast lane” of North Dakota, a land of wide, open spaces and the place he called home.