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Energy Issues Focus of PA Agriculture Secretary's 5th Annual Harvest Tour

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2007-09-22 09:16:37     
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

Agriculture Secretary Dennis Wolff kicked-off the fifth annual Harvest Tour in northeastern Pennsylvania today by saying rising energy costs are challenging Pennsylvania's farmers and the state's growing dependence on foreign oil is part of the larger threat to national security and America's economy.

The secretary said the commonwealth's agricultural industry is well positioned to address these challenges in ways that will create new economic opportunities for Pennsylvania's rural communities.

"Producers across the state are struggling with the rising cost of energy," said Wolff. "From the fuels they use to power their vehicles and equipment to the electricity they use to light their buildings, farmers are seeing an increase in operating costs. That's translating into higher food prices.

"In particular, our growing dependence on fossil fuels from countries that are politically unstable or controlled by regimes hostile to America's interests is a danger to our national security," said Wolff, noting that the United States imports 60 percent of its oil and Pennsylvania spends $30 billion annually on liquid fuels produced beyond the state's borders. "It's unacceptable that so much of our economy and way of life is at the mercy of other nations.

"We need to take steps now to reduce this dependence and keep more of that $30 billion here at home so we can invest more in our farmers, our communities and our companies. With the strength of our agricultural industry, farmers can play a leading role in Pennsylvania's drive towards energy independence."

Wolff highlighted Governor Edward G. Rendell's PennSecurity Fuels Initiative, a plan to produce and use 1 billion gallons of biofuels produced within Pennsylvania by 2017 -- an amount equal to what the commonwealth likely will import from the Persian Gulf by that time.

Under the Governor's plan -- part of his Energy Independence Strategy unveiled in February -- every gallon of gasoline sold in Pennsylvania will include 10 percent ethanol once in-state production reaches 200 million gallons per year; and every gallon of diesel fuel will include two percent biodiesel once production reaches 30 million gallons per year with incremental increases up to 20 percent once annual production reaches 300 million gallons.

With the rising demand for corn in ethanol production, Wolff said Pennsylvania's farmers will benefit from higher prices for their crop, and that any impact on livestock feed prices can be minimized by using more dried distiller grains, an ethanol by-product that retains 80 percent of its nutritional value.

"Pennsylvania's farmers -- most of whom use corn as feed for their livestock -- have found it more economically sensible to import corn from the Midwest than to grow it," said Wolff. "Now the economics are reversing. Whatever the impact of ethanol on corn prices in Pennsylvania, it can be mitigated by the degree to which livestock producers who currently use their own corn, sell a portion of their crop instead and switch to feeding their livestock a percentage of the dried distiller's grains that remain after processing corn into ethanol."

Wolff kicked-off his tour with a stop at Mountain View Junior-Senior High School in Kingsley, where he saw the facility's wood pellet heating system, which was installed in 1990. The heating system uses locally supplied wood pellets rather than depending on an out-of-state supplier. In the 2006-07 school year, the system saved the school district an estimated $176,454.

Wolff then toured the Norm and Deb Weaver Farm in Tunkhannock to see a solar water pumping station that runs on energy from the sun rather than electricity from the grid.

The secretary finished his tour with a town meeting in Tunkhannock to discuss the issues facing farmers.

The annual Harvest Tour includes visits to each of the seven regions in Pennsylvania. He shares the information gathered during the Harvest Tour with Governor Rendell, who uses it to fine-tune existing programs and establish new initiatives to keep Pennsylvania agriculture growing.

For more information on Governor Rendell's PennSecurity Fuels Initiative, and his Energy Independence Strategy, visit http://www.depweb.state.pa.us, and click on the "Fueling Energy Savings" icon.

CONTACT: Nicole L. Cullison
(717)787-5085

URL: http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us
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