Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. will start using biodiesel in its farm and tractor equipment and over-the-road vehicles this spring.

Pioneer joins a growing number of government entities and private companies who are switching vehicles to biodiesel in a move that benefits the environment and could help to increase markets for farmers. Currently, about 300 major fleets nationwide use biodiesel. That number could go up with a favorable energy bill in Congress.

Pioneer's announcement at the Commodity Classic in Charlotte, N.C., drew praise from farmers.

“Pioneer's use of biodiesel creates more demand for biodiesel, which in turn creates higher demand for soybeans, canola and other oilseeds,” says Ron Heck, president of the American Soybean Association. “We hope Pioneer's leadership encourages other agribusiness companies to follow suit.”

Tom West, Pioneer vice president, says the move is in line with DuPont's four environmental goals to become a more sustainable company by 2010. DuPont, the parent company of Pioneer, plans to derive a quarter of its revenues from non-depletable resources by 2010, continue to reduce carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, hold energy use flat using 1990 as a base year and get 10 percent of its global energy requirements from renewable resources by 2010.

“Our commitment to biodiesel is another way Pioneer is supporting agriculture by increasing demand for the crops our customers grow,” West says.

Biodiesel is a cleaner burning alternative fuel that can be used in its pure form or blended at various percentages with diesel. Blends of 2, 5 and 20 percent are called B2, B5 and B20.

Independent tests show that biodiesel reduces hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide and particulate matter emissions compared to petroleum diesel.

Pioneer says the conversion to biodiesel evens out economically. The benefits of using B2 and B5 blends far outweigh its 2 cents to 5 cents extra cost, the company says. The price of B2 and B5 is comparative to premium diesel. The company buys about 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually. Pioneer's announcement encompasses U.S. and Canadian research and supply operations, and includes more than 300 diesel vehicles and pieces of farm equipment.