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Bayer CropScience chairman: Current biofuels industry not sustainable

Agriculture.com Staff 10/16/2007 @ 3:50pm

The current track of world biofuels production is not sustainable and must change if the industry is to fit into a challenging new ag economy. Such is the view of Dr. Friedrich Berschauer, chairman of the board of management of Bayer CropScience AG.

Growing in numbers, wealth and sophistication, Berschauer says keeping the world's population fed and clothed should take top priority in the future. Doing so with a shrinking amount of arable land available for production in the world will be a tall task, even in a time of high crop values like today.

"We have limited land available for agriculture, but the demand is increasing. At the same time, we're seeing significant commodity price increases in the last year. I expect price to plateau in 2009. I believe commodity prices will not go back to levels where they were before 2005," Berschauer says.

"The challenges to the crop sciences industry include increasing yields from constant land areas, but we need to increase yields while exercising better resource management through innovative technologies like hybridization and plant biotechnology."

Current high commodity prices are due to growing demand on a world scale. "The more important reason is this increase in food and feed demand. Biofuels is just on top of that."

On the list of priorities for ag production, Berschauer says, biofuels rank a distant fourth behind production food, feed and fiber. Even with a smaller focus on biofuels, the current structure for production must change, both in terms of feedstocks used and government incentives for current methods.

"I firmly believe biofuels based on corn or canola...I don't see them being sustainable. I'm not against biofuels," Berschauer says. "I believe biofuels targets governments are putting on are not achievable. I don't think it will be sustainable, because we are creating social problems.

"We, as an industry, are benefiting from biofuels, but we shouldn't support it because I don't believe these targets are achievable and, in the long run, sustainable. That's just my opinion."

David Harms agrees. The Waverly, Illinois, crop consultant and adviser with Crop Pro Tech, Inc., says there's always a trade-off when political targets mandate land is taken from food production and earmarked for biofuels.

"There are three issues: Land, water and energy. We need to come up with ways to use all three efficiently. We need, as an industry, to develop more fuel-efficient technology," Harms says. "Anything political is short-term. Anytime we're putting land to energy production, we're giving up something."

It's his industry's obligation, Berschauer says, to be responsible in its actions to develop products that can complement a sustainable industry. When it comes to biofuels, this starts with biomass.

"This makes sense for biofuels. Use plants that are not in this competition with food and feed," he says. "Our obligation is to promote sustainable agriculture -- to make sure the next generation can sustain it too."

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