The National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) has applauded the national energy plan proposed by President George W. Bush as an important first step in addressing the nation's current energy challenges.

"The President's comprehensive proposal appears to respond to many of the recommendations advocated by NCFC, on behalf of our cooperatives and their farmer-members," said David Graves, NCFC president and chief executive officer. "We are committed to working with the Administration and Congress to achieve a balanced national energy policy that addresses the energy supply needs of agriculture and rural America, and a strong role for cooperatives and agriculture in helping supply the nation's energy needs."

Graves was pleased that President Bush's energy proposal advances significant measures consistent with key NCFC recommendations, including:

--Responsible and timely measures to open additional geographic areas to environmentally sound domestic natural gas and petroleum exploration and production. An adequate North American supply of natural gas is critical, particularly for farmer-owned and other domestic nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing facilities to remain viable and continue to serve the needs of American farmers.

--A comprehensive approach to debating domestic production options, facilitating dialog and deciding on the full range of energy supply and conservation options and resources, rather than making decisions individually or in isolation.

--Consideration of balanced energy and environmental policy objectives. Too often environmental policy decisions have been made without due consideration for consequences to domestic energy supply and infrastructure.

Other NCFC energy policy recommendations include:

--Financial assistance to farmer-owned cooperative refiners, to help comply with costly environmental regulations. This would help to ensure a viable energy supply infrastructure to serve the energy needs of agriculture and rural America.

--Stronger incentives for production and use of renewable energy (ethanol and biodiesel) from agricultural products and animal wastes.

--Financial assistance to farmers, when their income is unduly impacted by energy-related price shocks.

--Incentives for energy conservation in agriculture.

"The President clearly recognizes that maintaining and enhancing the energy infrastructure, such as refineries and pipelines, is a critical element of a successful energy policy. If the farmer-owned cooperative refining system doesn't receive adequate financial assistance," Graves warned, "the system and its continued ability to supply much of rural America will be placed at risk." Though less than 2% of the U.S. refining industry, farmer-owned cooperatives supply about 40% of all on-farm fuels, as well as the fuel needs of many rural communities.

Agriculture and rural America are typically at the end of the distribution chain, with fewer supply options and greater vulnerability to disruptions. To help assure a reliable and affordable supply of petroleum fuels and fertilizers, farmers have invested through their cooperatives in petroleum refining and distribution and nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing facilities. Farmer cooperatives are unique, in the petroleum and fertilizer industries, in that the farm customer also is the owner, creating a unique accountability to the needs of the farmer-owner.

NCFC is a nationwide association of cooperative businesses owned and controlled by farmers. Its membership includes more than 100 major farmer marketing, supply and credit cooperatives, and state councils of cooperatives. NCFC members, in turn, represent nearly 3,500 local cooperatives, with a combined membership that includes most of the nearly 2 million U.S. farmers. NCFC members handle almost every type of agricultural commodity produced in the United States, market these commodities domestically and abroad and furnish production supplies and credit to their farmer members.

Additional information about NCFC can be found at www.ncfc.org.

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