Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has joined a chorus of economic analysts who have been warning that natural gas prices, which have doubled over the last year, could mushroom in 2004. Farmers, heavy energy users themselves, can help provide an answer to those increases, one farm group says.

"Farmers and ranchers use natural gas for fertilizer and heating, venting and refrigeration of crops and livestock," says National Farmers Union President Dave Frederickson. "On the flip side, they harvest plants, animals and wind that can be used for bioenergy.

"America needs a comprehensive energy plan that will address energy shortages and utilize renewable resources," he said. "The Senate is right on target with its renewable fuels standard."

Frederickson noted that the Senate late last week passed an amendment to its comprehensive energy bill that would triple the usage of renewable fuels by 2012. This is the second year in a row that the Senate has overwhelmingly passed a renewable fuels standard (RFS).

The National Farmers Union has advocated the RFS for years as a means to stabilize farm income, boost economic opportunities in rural America, improve the environment and promote energy independence, the NFU says.

"Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and the 20 other cosponsors are to be commended for their leadership in passing this forward-thinking legislation," Frederickson said. "Unfortunately, their crusade is not complete."

In April the House of Representatives passed its own renewable fuels standard that Frederickson said "needs work." With the House plan, the RFS would reach 5 billion gallons in 2015 and would not ban MTBE. National Farmers Union prefers requiring the increase by 2012 and a total phase-out of MTBE, as provided in the Senate's plan.

Upon passage of the energy bill in the Senate, the two houses will work out their differences in conference committee. Frederickson said he hopes the process will proceed quickly.

"Farmers and ranchers are anxiously awaiting the establishment of a RFS so they may help increase energy production and create more value for their raw products," he said. "Congress should act swiftly to provide a common sense energy package that promotes biofuels."

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com