U.S. soy sector has high hopes for Biden

The soybean industry says U.S. president Joe Biden’s campaign promise to move the government fleet to electric vehicles is more of a threat to ethanol than biodiesel.  | Reuters photo

The American Soybean Association thinks it may have a receptive ear in Washington when lobbying on some of its key policy objectives.

That is because president Joe Biden’s administration is keenly focused on addressing climate change and promoting sustainability programs.

Steve Censky, chief executive officer of the ASA, hopes that means the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be willing to set much more aggressive biodiesel annual volume requirements under the Renewable Fuel Standard.

“We think there is a great opportunity to expand that,” he said during a presentation at the 2021 virtual Commodity Classic conference.

Incentivizing increased use of biodiesel would help the Biden administration meet its stated objective of reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a readily available source of alternative energy and there is plenty of unused biodiesel production capacity to meet the expanded requirements, he said.

However, the Biden administration also poses a potential threat to the biofuel sector because of a campaign promise to move the government fleet of vehicles to more electrified vehicles.

Censky said that is more of a threat to ethanol, which is used in passenger vehicles. By contrast, biodiesel is primarily used in large trucks, rail locomotives and ships.

“I do not see electric vehicles in that space in a big way anytime soon,” he said.

On the trade front, the association is going to be pushing the Biden administration to re-enter the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

U.S. soybean farmers export more than half of what they grow every year. Joining the CPTPP would give them more access to the rapidly growing Pacific Rim nations.

“It would be a great opportunity for us to get onto a level playing field with some of our competitors in those markets,” said Censky.

Virginia Houston, the ASA’s trade policy lead, said there is a new attitude permeating Washington these days.

“We do expect to see a different approach to trade policy,” she said.

Former president Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. She thinks the Biden administration will at least be willing to take a hard look at the revised CPTPP pact.

However, Censky acknowledged that trade is going to be a “second tier priority” for the Biden administration.

He thinks the new government will at least initially be more focused on combating COVID, bolstering the domestic economy, improving the country’s crumbling transportation infrastructure and tackling climate change.

Censky said American farmers are keenly awaiting what type of new sustainability initiatives will emerge from the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Biden administration.

He hopes the programs will be voluntary and incentive-based rather than mandated.

They can’t be one-size-fits-all policies because there are different farming systems, soil types and climate zones.

Perhaps most importantly, the programs must reward farmers who have been employing sustainability practices for many years.

The programs need to reward growers who have been using no till, conservation tillage, cover crops and filter strips for a long time.

Focusing only on new adopters could prove counter-productive and dangerous.

“That would end up with some really perverse results and frankly unintended consequences,” said Censky.

Farmers may pull out their tillage equipment and start disturbing their soils in order to qualify for incentives if the programs only reward new adopters.

Christy Seyfert, executive director of government affairs with the association, said global buyers are starting to place value on sustainably produced crops like nitrogen-fixing soybeans.

The association recently developed the Soy Sustainability Assurance Protocol in conjunction with the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

“That stamp of approval is very much valued on the world stage,” she said.

Censky hopes the Biden administration recognizes that farmers need biotechnology and crop protection products in order to implement conservations practices.

They need herbicides to control weeds or to terminate cover crops at the right time.

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