Increased research on plants benefits all

President Clinton announced Thursday his plan to increase the use of crops and trees for energy sources. Currently these sources account for only 3 percent of the nation’s energy usage. By the year 2010, Clinton hopes to increase threefold the amount of fuels and other products derived from crops.
In order to execute his plan, Clinton issued an executive order to establish a research council that will consist of the heads of the agriculture and energy departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation and other agencies. The council will propose annually a detailed research program and work to promote bioproducts and bioenergy.
There are a number of projects currently in progress that could benefit from Clinton’s proposal. DuPont is working on a new type of polyester based on natural sugars rather than petroleum. Cargill, Inc. is working on a product to replace polystyrene that would use sugar derived from corn kernels.
The University has its own project, which focuses on the use of alfalfa for energy production. The goals of this project are to develop a variety of alfalfa that meets energy needs for electric power and to provide farmers with an economic incentive to produce it. The project uses alfalfa stems — a currently unused part of the plant — for energy. Because of the project, Northern States Power is considering changing their Granite Falls plant to use alfalfa for energy production.
Clinton’s proposed plan is advantageous on many levels. The increased use of crops will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. This reduction would help reduce acid rain and smog, and could slow down global warming. Nonrenewable resources like oil and petroleum would also be depleted less quickly.
This project will also be economically beneficial to farmers and rural communities. Clinton suggested that by creating high-tech jobs and new economic opportunities, the project could add $15 billion to $20 billion in new income for farmers and farming communities.
The University would also benefit from the plan. The Department of Forages and Cropping, the Experiment Station and the Agricultural Research Service all focus on plant research. Several other departments have individual projects dealing with industrial applications for plants. Funding for this research is received through federal, state and grant money. These departments have seen a decrease in funding since the 1980s and have had to rely more and more on grants. The cutbacks have created a growing concern about receiving adequate funding. Clinton’s new program will focus more attention on this type of research and could increase its funding.
Increasing research on plants as an alternative source of energy and products is beneficial to all. President Clinton’s proposal should be welcomed by all citizens. It will help the environment, the economy, farmers and science.