INDIANAPOLIS -- Access to an adequate energy supply at reasonable cost is crucial for sustained economic growth. Unfortunately, high petroleum prices and the uncertainty of dependence on imports from politically unstable regions decrease the reliability of U.S. energy supplies and hinder economic development.

Although biofuels have been identified as an important component of the U.S strategy to decrease dependence on imported oil, the ability to sustain a rapid expansion of biofuel production capacity raises new research and policy issues.

A new CAST Commentary titled "Convergence of Agriculture and Energy: Implications for Research and Policy" seeks to identify the most critical of these issues to help inform the policy development process. The goal is to enhance the long-term economic and environmental viability of the biofuel industry and its positive impact on agriculture, rural communities, and national security.

"Because grain-based ethanol is currently the USA's only major source of biofuels, and because the magnitude of increase in grain-ethanol production is expected to have a large impact on commodity prices, agricultural profitability, and global food security, this Commentary focuses on the key issues concerning corn-based ethanol production systems over the next 5 to 10 years," says Task Force Chair Kenneth G. Cassman, director of the Nebraska Center for Energy Sciences, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

"Much of the discussion also is relevant to fostering development and sustainability of other biofuels systems, including ethanol from sugar crops and ligno-cellulosic biomass, and biodiesel from oilseed crops."

"Convergence of Agriculture and Energy: Implications for Research and Policy" covers several critical questions, including: How much corn-ethanol needs to be produced? Can enough corn be produced for food, feed, and fuel? Can all coproducts be used? What are the environmental impacts of grain-ethanol systems? What are the economic impacts on rural development? and What are the research and policy implications of an expanded grain-ethanol industry?

"As the United States moves to replace volatile oil energy supplies with agricultural commodities, it is vital that decision makers and the general public be aware of the many possibilities as well as the 'small print' behind such decisions," concludes CAST Executive Vice President John M. Bonner. "Providing a balanced evaluation of pertinent agricultural and technology issues is CAST's long-time commitment, and we are pleased to release this latest commentary as a source of science-based information for the current discussion."

The full text of Convergence of Agriculture and Energy: Implications for Research and Policy (CAST Commentary QTA 2006-3) is available online without charge, along with many of CAST's other scientific publications.

CAST (Council for Agriculture Science and Technology) is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies. It assembles, interprets and communicates credible science-based information regionally, nationally, and internationally to legislators, regulators, policymakers, the media, the private sector, and the public.

SOURCE: CAST news release.