Grow it here, make it here, and create jobs

The United States can combine its strengths in agriculture and manufacturing and leverage them with new technology, such as biotechnology, to grow our economy and jobs. That simple premise underpins the Farm Bill energy programs, which with recent reauthorization and expansion promise to continue supporting rural business formation, investment and job growth.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) led the multiyear, bipartisan effort to reauthorize the Farm Bill. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and MichBio stood with her back in October 2011 as she launched her “Grow It Here, Make It Here” initiative, which aimed to make Farm Bill energy programs more effective for U.S. companies. The initiative laid out a concrete path for the United States to use its leadership in technology and manufacturing know-how to generate consumer products from homegrown renewable agricultural resources. With this successful initiative in place, the Farm Bill’s energy programs now support companies that make biobased products and renewable chemicals.

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Although it’s one of the smaller titles in the Farm Bill, the energy programs have produced huge benefits for rural communities. Farm Bill energy programs have already established a strong track record of reducing energy reliance in agriculture. They’ve sparked many energy projects that use homegrown biomass resources for greater energy security and introduce new sources of energy crops. The programs generate outsized benefits from less than 1 percent of total farm bill outlays.

The economic potential for renewable chemicals and biobased products is significant. A recent report by Nexant, prepared for the USDA, estimates an annual economic boost for the U.S. of $775 million by 2017, through production of renewable chemicals. That potential grows to $3 billion in annual economic activity by 2022, which would more than 19,000 new jobs.

The United States is already home to more than 3,000 companies that manufacture biobased products. Some 80 companies make their home in Michigan. And many other states are experiencing growth in this sector. For instance, New York has more than 150 companies; Ohio more than 135; and Minnesota and Pennsylvania more than 120 each. More than 1,000 products have been certified by the USDA to carry the BioPreferred label, which identifies the percentage of renewable biobased content in the product.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is today hosting a showcase of homegrown biobased products and the companies that make them. The Committee is also holding a hearing on policies that foster growth of the biobased economy, with companies such as Coca-Cola and Cargill testifying about their plans for producing sustainable, renewable consumer products.

The hearing will highlight the plain fact that farm energy programs are key to America’s future economic growth. The continuing implementation of these programs will help turn biotech and alternative energy research and development into new, cutting-edge jobs and bring economic development to rural areas that need it. The programs will leverage private investment for building new rural businesses, help farmers to introduce new crops specifically for renewable energy, and create new jobs.

Rapundalo, PhD, is president and CEO of MichBio; Pellerito is senior policy consultant at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO).