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By Jean Caspers-Simmet

simmet@agrinews.com

AMES, Iowa — Rural community leaders and Iowa State University officials last week talked about how to keep the state at the forefront of the bioeconomy and yet insure the sustainability of the land and economy.

The discussion was part of "Community Futures 2007: The Small Town in the Bioeconomy,’’ held in Ames.

Sponsor for the event was Town/Craft, which is a joint effort of Hometown Perry, ISU Extension, and the ISU College of Design.

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Vice President for ISU Extension and Outreach Jack Payne moderated a panel on opportunities and issues of small-town life in the bioeconomy. Joining Payne were John Allen, director of the Western Rural Development Center at Utah State University; Robert Gramling, director of the Center for Socioeconomic Research at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette;  and Tom Johnson, director of the Community Policy Analysis Center at the University of Missouri.

Payne said each Extension county office recently completed focus group discussions for citizens to express their bioeconomy concerns.

 "The bioeconomy is not a silver bullet," Allen said. "Energy development often brings social disruption. This is a real opportunity for rural community residents because it will bring in new capital and job creation, but we must know how to manage it."

He warned against changes that concentrate wealth in fewer hands, which reduces economic stability.

Gramling spoke about boom/bust lessons learned in Louisiana from oil production in the Gulf of Mexico. He warned against building communities dependent on one commodity and related the saga of a boomtown that had one energy producer. During the growth period, many specialty companies opened that relied on the energy producer. When the energy producer failed, the specialty companies also failed.

"There is no such thing as a stable commodities market," Gramling said. "There will be competition in the energy production game, even within Iowa."

Gramling spoke about "the very real danger of misuse of land for energy production. Louisiana is losing approximately 30 square miles of coastal wetlands a year due to the misuse of wetlands. We saw one consequence of that loss with Hurricane Katrina." 

Johnson called the bioeconomy a transformation of the entire global economy, not "just a flash in the pan. The world economy is developing and energy is a very big part of that economy. This isn’t just about corn and soybeans; it’s about land use everywhere. When the world runs out of nonrenewable fuels, all fuel will come from renewables. Areas that will be winners will be those that produce more energy than they use."

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Christopher Seeger, assistant professor and ISU Extension specialist in landscape architecture, suggested that counties and towns consider aesthetics and open space improvements when crafting countrysides and landscapes.

Iowa offers strong visual images, he said, that may change if producers remove farm buildings to increase cropland or if sites for bioenergy plants proliferate without guidelines. Use of highly erodible land and buffer strips for crops could not only destroy land’s sustainability, but also destroy wildlife habitat, he said.

Conference participants proposed system-wide zoning, only harvesting biomass from CRP ground, an incentive system for land preservation and landscaping of public lands.

More information about the conference is available at www.extension.iastate.edu.

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