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USDA Under Secretary is Optimistic about Ethanol, Rural Communities
by Megan Hasche

The 2009 American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) Conference featured a keynote address by Dallas Tonsager, Under Secretary for Rural Development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under Secretary Tonsager gave the first speech of this year’s general session, informing and inspiring ethanol supporters to take action and support their local communities.

Tonsager has a rich history of working with the USDA in rural development. In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton selected Tonsager to serve as South Dakota’s State Director for USDA’s Rural Development. In that role he oversaw a diversified portfolio of housing, business, and infrastructure loans in South Dakota totaling more than $100 million. In 1999, he was recognized as one of two outstanding state directors.

After his term concluded in 2001, Tonsager served as Executive Director of the South Dakota Value-Added Agriculture Development Center where he coordinated initiatives to increase the economic value and consumer appeal of agricultural products. From 1988 to 1993, Tonsager served two terms as president of the South Dakota Farmers Union. He also served on the board of National Farmers Union Insurance from 1989 to 1993, and was a member of the advisory board of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1990 to 1993.

Prior to re-joining USDA, Tonsager served on the board of directors for the Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation and the Farm Credit Administration, which is responsible for regulating and examining the Farm Credit System.

Naturally, the topic of ethanol hit close to home for Tonsager, who grew up on a dairy farm near Oldham, South Dakota. He graduated from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor of Science in agriculture in 1976. His address began by stating his loyal support of ethanol.

"Ethanol is a prime example of what we need to do in rural America," Tonsager said.

With its more than 6,000 employees nationwide, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working hard to build up rural America.

"We must ensure that rural communities are creating wealth, self-sustaining, repopulating, and thriving economically," he said.

Strategies to carry out these goals include building new businesses, continuously encouraging rural communities to grow, expanding broadband communications into rural communities, and encouraging farmers and rural citizens to be connected with the world around them.

Tonsager emphasized local food supplies and encouraged consumers to buy locally, which builds up their local communities.

"We need to think about local food systems," he said. "Most food is shipped from somewhere else even though it's grown right there."

Recognizing the current financial squeeze in the U.S. economy, much of the Under Secretary’s address focused on the agency’s Business and Industry (B&I) guaranteed loan program. The program can help farmers, companies, and communities regain much of the capital that they may have lost. He feels optimistic that this B&I program will help grow rural America’s financial success.

"We believe it's an opportunity,” he said. "We believe in rural America."

Tonsager believes rural America can play a pivotal role in boosting the alternative energy industry. The USDA constantly strives to conduct studies, research, develop, and invest in new sources of energy.

"The greener we are, the better off we are," he said.

Tonsager also briefly addressed the issue of international land use change, encouraging ethanol supporters to stand strong and keep voicing our concerns to the EPA. He believes “we can get science to work for us again” on this issue if we keep pushing for fair study.

Following the speech, Tonsager took a few questions from the conference attendees. When asked about implementing higher blends of ethanol into gas stations nationwide, he replied simply: "It makes all the sense in the world."

For more information on the USDA’s Rural Development programs and opportunities, visit

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The American Coalition for Ethanol publishes Ethanol Today magazine each month to cover the biofuels industry�s hot topics, including cellulosic ethanol, E85, corn ethanol, food versus fuel, ethanol�s carbon footprint, E10, E15, and mid-range ethanol blends.
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