A Convenient Pursuit

Barbara Young

Industry refining focused on the production of cottonseed oil — in a big way — 100 years ago. The cotton-seed extraction process that came along in the mid-19th century was a tremendous facilitator, to be sure. A plethora of information on the matter is available in our magazine’s store of back issues – including ads concerning fertilizer machinery for cotton oil mills, for one thing. As reported in a December 28, 1907 weekly review, “a late bulge in prices” contributed to “considerable” quantities of crude oil contracts taking that much out of the steady production.
The various cottonseed products derived from one of nature’s most prodigious natural materials is nothing short of phenomenal. Cotton grown for its fibers dates back thousands of years. Perhaps the best story about cotton is that cottonseed — once a wasted agricultural product — has been converted to products for human consumption, livestock feed, fertilizer and mulch for plants, fiber for furniture and cellulose for a range of products from explosives to computer chip boards.
According to the National Cottonseed Products Association, cottonseed meal is a high-protein supplement for livestock and poultry. Its hull provides roughage for cattle feed and the linters, which are fibers that stick to cottonseed, are turned into many industrial and consumer products.
Blessed be, for converting natural raw materials into byproducts seems to be a basic human instinct. In the next 100 years – oh my, that’s 2107 – alternative fuel from plant-based products will be a story of record. The movement is gaining momentum, lately with a push from the nation’s top political stratum.
In his January 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush moved renewable and alternative fuels higher on the nation’s agenda of domestic pursuits. There have been a smattering of alternative fuel/energy endeavors since the oil embargo of the ‘70s slapped our collective American faces, forcing us to wake up in time to see oil from the Middle East begin its trickle-down effect.
Thanks to Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns’ announcement — on the heels of the President’s speech — of a plan involving $1.6 billion in new funding for renewable energy pursuits, it is becoming ever more convenient for the basic instincts of the research and development community to kick in. Cellulose energy research and production is part of the administration’s 2007 Farm Bill proposals.
President Bush targeted ethanol as a growth fuel among the various other known alternatives.
This is more than a convenient pursuit, to be sure. It is absolutely necessary. Moreover, America should by now have a thriving alternative fuel/energy program in place   after all the handwriting has been on the wall for years. As a global power, America could have led the way in this endeavor, for surely other nations would have anted up to globalize the game. Politics aside, finding other energy sources to keep our lifestyles on an even par means recognizing that certain earth resources are simply non-renewable. As is always the case, however, there are two sides to the story.
Issues on the other side of this venture relate to open questions concerning the impact of increased ethanol production on livestock producers and raw material prices, especially corn. It is always about give and take – want more guns, get less butter. President Bush’s proposal calls for a new Alternative Fuels Standard (AFS), which hopefully will balance the-who-gets-what-when-and-where scale. The AFS contains a requirement concerning American farmers and ranchers and an automatic safety valve to protect against unexpected increases in alternative fuel prices.
If the cotton industry was able to turn that material into a cash crop of historical proportions, the alternative fuel industry can certainly rescue us from our heavy reliance on oil from the Middle East. It is past time to add expediency to this convenient pursuit.