The agricultural sector is one of the most energy-intensive sectors of our economy. When energy prices rise precipitously as they have over the past two years, farmers, ranchers, and the rural community at large feel the effects much more acutely than do most other sectors of the economy. Our energy problems are not restricted to the agricultural sector, however. The United States finds itself in an energy straightjacket, with tightness in all major energy supply markets, unable to turn to other conventional energy resources for relief. It will take several years at best to bring significant new supplies of conventional energy to market. This leaves us with energy efficiency and conservation as the only near-term resources that can respond to our immediate problems.
Energy is intertwined with all aspects of agriculture, both directly as diesel fuel, electricity and propane, and indirectly in energy-intensive products such as fertilizer, other agricultural chemicals, and animal feed. Fortunately there are a number of important steps that the agricultural community can take to reduce both direct and indirect energy use, including:
- Increased energy awareness
- More efficient farm vehicles and equipment
- Low-energy farming practices such as low-till/no-till, irrigation management, and improved confinement livestock lighting and ventilation
The agricultural sector is also uniquely positioned to realize a larger share of its energy efficiency and conservation potential. Most of these key efficiency and conservation measures are well understood by experts in agencies and universities who worked on these issues in the 1970s and '80s. The past fifteen years have seen this key information fall out of common usage. We need to re-teach energy awareness and efficient practices to the agriculture community. We are already seeing this beginning to happen, motivated by a demand by the agricultural community for this information.
An important asset that the agricultural community has is its unique educational infrastructure (including the land-grant universities, the extension service, and their partners in the agricultural community) that has developed over more than a century. This network allows new technology and practices to quickly get into the hands of farmers and ranchers who can make immediate practical use of them.
What we need to do now is mobilize this network to focus on energy again, repackage and update existing educational materials, and get these materials into the hands of the educators so that they can begin responding to the demand that we are already seeing in the agricultural community.
ACEEE believes that the federal government has an important leadership role to play in responding to the energy crisis facing the agricultural sector. We recommend that Congress take the following immediate steps to re-fund the agricultural sector's educational and implementation infrastructure, including:
- o Fund Sec. 9005 of the 2002 Farm Bill. Congress has never appropriated funding for this provision of the farm bill.
- o Continue full funding of Sec. 9006 of the 2002 Farm Bill. Now is not the time to de-fund provisions like this.
- o Continue full support for the Conservation Security Program.
- o Expand funding for Rural Development to provide the technical support and financing that is needed to enable farmers and ranchers to realize their energy efficiency and conservation opportunities.
- o Refund the extension and experiment station network that remains the frontline in working with farmers, ranchers, and rural small businesses to help them meet the challenges of the current energy crisis.
The committee should also begin thinking strategically about the role of energy in the agricultural sector, and what additional energy provisions are needed in the 2007 Farm Bill.