Renewable energy will be a major focus of the AgOutlook 2008 conference Feb. 25-27 in Monroe, La. The conference will focus on opportunities renewable energy sources such as ethanol and biodiesel can provide to increase agriculture's contribution to the Louisiana economy.

The conference is sponsored by the LSU AgCenter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, USDA Rural Development, the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry. The theme is “Connecting Agriculture and Renewable Energy Opportunities.”

“The purpose of the 2008 AgOutlook Conference is to provide current information on large-scale and small-scale technologies for producing fuel products from a wide array of agricultural products, identifying bioenergy opportunities that are ripe for development, providing economic information on various alternative energy enterprises, highlighting several alternative energy success stories, and providing information on grant opportunities and other support for new bioenergy businesses,” said LSU AgCenter regional director Bob Hutchinson, one of the conference organizers.

“This will also be a great opportunity for attendees to network and exchange ideas on alternative energy opportunities that may result in new and exciting collaborative ventures,” he said.

The conference will take place at the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Conference Center on U.S. 165 near I-20 in Monroe. It will begin with an opening reception at 5 p.m. on Feb. 25. Formal presentations start at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 26 and continue through Feb. 27 — concluding with an optional tour of Bayou Wood Products that begins at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 27.

Production and processing of agricultural products in Louisiana already contribute about $10 billion to the state's economy, but experts say there is potential for even more.

“New bioenergy businesses based on the conversion of agricultural commodities and byproducts into energy products show promise of enhancing the value of row crops, forestry products and animal enterprises in our state,” said Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor.

“These businesses could also infuse new life into Louisiana's declining rural economies by opening the door for new energy-related businesses and creating jobs associated with production, processing and transporting alternative fuel products and byproducts,” he said.

Building businesses based on renewable fuels could help Louisiana continue to take advantage of opportunities presented by the state's long history with both energy and agriculture, experts say.

“Our state is blessed with some of the most fertile and productive soils in the world, as well as a climate that is ideal for the production of many crops and trees,” said David Boethel, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor. “But compared to many other states, we still have had limited success in adding value to agricultural products through processing and manufacturing of consumer products.

“Many economists believe success in the arena of renewable energy is fundamental to building vibrant economies in rural agricultural regions of Louisiana,” he said.

The conference will focus on opportunities for forest products, biodiesel and ethanol, as well as ways to spur rural community development. It also will feature success stories from various USDA grant programs.

Speakers will include a variety of regional and national experts in the area of renewable energy, including university faculty members, government officials, representatives of various associations and individual farmers.

Advance registration for the conference is required because of limited space, and a $55 registration fee covers various meals, breaks and conference materials.

For more details or to register, visit www.lsuagcenter.com and click on the AgOutlook 2008 link under features — or go directly to www.lsuagcenter.com/agoutlook. Additional information also can be obtained by phoning Hutchinson at (318) 435-2908 or e-mailing him at rhutchinson@agcenter.lsu.edu.

The conference originated as an Agricultural Crisis Summit in 2003 in response to problems the state's agricultural industry faced that year.