Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 27, Issue 4, pp 427–444 | Cite as

(Bio)fueling farm policy: the biofuels boom and the 2008 farm bill



In the mid-2000s, rising gas prices, political instability, pollution, and fossil fuel depletion brought renewable domestic energy production onto the policy agenda. Biofuels, or fuels made from plant materials, came to be seen as America’s hope for energy security, environmental conservation, and rural economic revitalization. Yet even as the actual environmental, economic, and energy contributions of a biofuels boom remained debatable, support for biofuels swelled and became a prominent driver of not only US energy policy but of US farm policy as well. This paper asks why biofuels became such a powerful force in farm policy debates, and draws on policy windows theory and discourse analysis to analyze biofuels’ contributions to the passage of the 2008 farm bill. It finds that budgetary and political factors combined with a particular set of patriotic biofuels-oriented discourses to carry energy policy debates into farm policy. It also comments on the implications of biofuels policies for conservation and sustainable land use in 2008 and beyond.


Agricultural policy Biofuels Energy policy Environmental conservation National security discourse Sustainable land use 



Corporate average fuel economy


European Union


Genetically modified organism


United States Department of Agriculture


World Trade Organization



The author gratefully acknowledges Dennis Becker, Rachel Schurman, the late G. Edward Schuh, Paul Porter, Kristen Nelson, Edith Lehrer, and Mike Cochran, as well as the editor and three anonymous reviewers of Agriculture and Human Values, for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this paper. Thanks also to Vickie Bierman, Brooke Haworth, Meagan Keefe, Lisa Kissing, and Kaitlin Steiger-Meister for their work transcribing interviews, and to the many interview participants, informants, and colleagues who gave of their time and energy for this project. The research described in this paper was funded by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a United States Environmental Protection Agency—Science to Achieve Results Graduate Fellowship, a MacArthur Interdisciplinary Global Change, Sustainability, and Justice Fellowship, and a University of Minnesota Graduate Fellowship. Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this document are solely those of the author. The National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, and other funders have not officially endorsed this document, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, Environmental Protection Agency, or any other funder.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community and Rural Sociology, Tree Fruit Research and Extension CenterWashington State UniversityWenatcheeUSA

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