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Secretary of Agriculture delivers talk on 'homegrown energy' and the need for innovation


September 4, 2014

Developing a deeper understanding of agriculture's role in the future of energy, innovation and economic growth, particularly in rural areas, will be key to addressing global sustainability challenges, said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack during his talk Sept. 4 at Arizona State University.

Vilsack spoke on “Homegrown Energy: Unlimited Opportunity for Innovation” as part of the Sustainability Series at ASU's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. The lecture series, which explores a range of environmental, social and economic issues, gave Secretary Vilsack the opportunity to discuss with students and faculty the U.S. farming shift to renewable energy. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack Download Full Image

While each year fewer Americans – less than one percent – claim farming as an occupation, the number of ranchers and farmers transitioning to renewable energy sources is on the rise, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which saw that number double from 2007. Solar panels accounted for nearly two-thirds of farms' energy-producing systems.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and diversify our portfolio of biofuels and other renewable energy sources,” Vilsack said. “We are also engaging with universities like ASU to explore innovative solutions for challenges related to energy, food and sustainability.”

Prior to his talk, Vilsack met with faculty and leaders from the ASU Wrigley Institute to discuss ongoing ASU sustainability research in the areas of algae fuels and cyanobacteria, food-based and cellulose-based energy sources, sustainable phosphorus and carbon sequestration. ASU's Gary Dirks, director of the institute; Rob Melnick, executive director and chief operating officer of the institute; and Christopher Boone, dean of the School of Sustainability, offered an overview of research projects.

After praising ASU's pioneering efforts to advance sustainability research, education and everyday practice in seeking real-world solutions to today's most pressing problems, Vilsack shared some of the challenges his own department is facing on the path toward a sustainable future.

"Nearly 40 percent of food in the United States goes to the landfill, which means that we are not just wasting food, but also water, energy and resources that were used to grow that food," he said. "We are examining the food system to make it more efficient.

“We’d like to move toward a circular economy, one that is entrepreneurial and innovative, is restorative in nature, and eliminates waste by design. Such an economy will create better paying jobs and help rebuild the middle class.

“We hope to create a brave new world through all of our initiatives," he said.

Media projects manager, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development