A federally mandated increase in biofuel production bodes well for agriculture and especially for farmers and landowners in the Southeast, according to several speakers at the recent third annual South Carolina Biofuels Summit, held in Florence, S.C.

Peter Beattie, former governor of Queensland, Australia and former energy trade czar for his country, says the opportunities for exporting energy to China and India are huge opportunities in the future for U.S. farmers.

Meeting domestic demand will be challenge enough, but in the future, Beattie says the Southeast is ideally suited to be an exporter of energy.

The demand in China and India, he says, will be huge. These countries will likely continue to focus their efforts on using available farm land to produce food crops to feed their burgeoning populations.

The former Australian trade leader says China in particular will be a huge market for cleaner burning bioenergy. “The Chinese are very sensitive to the pollution problem they have in and around a number of their major cities. Industrialization grew too fast and their dependence on fossil fuel was too great, and they don’t want to repeat that process as the country continues to grow its industry,” Beattie says.

The immediate challenge for U.S. energy producers is to meet a federally mandated replacement of 36 billion gallons of fossil fuel used in the country by 2025.

Kenneth McCaskill, who works with the Farm Services Agency in South Carolina, speaking at the Bioenergy Summit, says 15 billion of the 36 billion gallons will come from ethanol, primarily from corn and another 1 billion will come from biodiesel, primarily from soybeans. The additional 20 billion gallons is what offers great challenge and great opportunity, especially for the Southeast.

McCaskill says roughly 10 billion gallons of this fuel is projected to come from the Southeast. Pine forest residues and fast growing biomass crops are expected to provide the bulk of the cellulosic-based energy.

While the infrastructure nationwide is almost in place to produce 15 billion gallons of ethanol annually, there is virtually no building, manufacturing plants or other infrastructure for cellulosic biofuels.

Most of the forest residue and biomass crops used to produce cellulosic bioenergy will come from rural areas, opening huge opportunities for rural development, McCaskill points out.

Jim Frederick, Clemson agronomy professor and coordinator of the Bioenergy Summit, says the Southeast is a natural center for bioenergy production. “Our warm climate, land base, need for rural enterprise development, and water supply all make for a perfect blend that could make the Southeast the hub of bioenergy production in the future,” Frederick says.