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Soybean groups, U mend fences

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • April 1, 2008 - 9:40 PM

Soybean farmer groups have patched up their differences with the University of Minnesota and are expected to resume funding several research projects today, according to officials at the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

In February, the council and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association suspended about $1.5 million in annual grants to protest a study by university scientists about biofuels and global warming.

Jim Palmer, executive director of the two groups, said that about 30 representatives of the groups met March 5 with university President Robert Bruininks; dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences Allen Levine and dean of Extension Bev Durgan.

"We got a very constructive understanding of where the U was coming from, and they got a good sense of our concerns," Palmer said. Communications improved greatly because of the meeting and follow-up conversations, he said.

"Unfortunately, this was an argument among friends that got too public," Palmer said.

The study, by university ecologist David Tilman and others, said that dedicating large amounts of land to grow soybeans, corn, sugarcane and other food crops for fuel could drastically change the landscape and worsen global warming. Farmers in the United States, Brazil, Indonesia and other countries would need to clear more forests, grasslands and peat lands to grow more of those crops, unleashing far more carbon dioxide from the natural vegetation and disturbed soils than is saved by the lower emissions of the biofuels, the study argued.

Farmers, including corn growers who sell to ethanol plants and soybean producers who supply biodiesel plants, reacted strongly.

University officials said in February that they value their long-term relationship with soybean growers but would not interfere with academic freedom and the right of scientists to conduct and publish research.

U spokesman Daniel Wolter said Tuesday that because the soybean growers are scheduled to vote today on whether to resume funding several projects, the university would decline to comment until it knows the outcome of that vote. Top administrators "have been working actively over the last month to listen to the soybean growers' concerns and work to preserve our strong research partnership," Wolter said.

"The university has always submitted quality projects for us to fund," Palmer said. "That was never the issue."

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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