For many farmers, all this talk of reduced fuel costs appears to present a mixed bag — on the one hand, a break from spiking operating costs, and on the other, quashed hopes that farming would soon turn the corner toward a productive future serving as the nation’s wellspring of bioenergy.

However, one economist says it’s still possible for farmers to have their cake and eat it too. Lower petroleum costs will not sound the death knell of bioenergy, says Max Runge, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System economist.

He says the bioenergy sector already is too well established to be swept away by this newfound zeal for non-renewable energy sources.

“There may be less interest, but it’s not going away,” Runge says. “We have more bioenergy infrastructure in place than ever before, especially in the Midwest, and there are still federal incentives and other provisions in place that will ensure advances in bioenergy technology and production for the foreseeable future.”

He believes this emerging energy sector is already well enough established to provide the petroleum industry with a competitive check.

“Bioenergy has become very doable in some instances, and it’s now positioned in a way that it will challenge the petroleum industry to be more cost effective,” Runge says.

Technological advances have been the biggest contributor to steep drops in oil prices in recent months.

Enhanced gasoline efficiency in cars has played a part, but so have advances in what energy specialists now describe as “tight oil,” oil produced from tight rock formations using the same technology that has led to huge advances in another emerging U.S. energy bright spot — shale gas.

These technological advances have enabled U.S. oil production to increase by 25 percent since 2008 — production levels that could increase to 600,000 barrels per day this year, according to world renowned energy consultant and author Daniel Yergin.