Farmers hold a key to making the country more secure and economically stable, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

To help the U.S. decrease dependence on foreign oil, more biofuel needs to be produced, especially ethanol blends, Vilsack said at the National Ethanol Conference in Orlando, Fla. He said E15, a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline, should be made available for consumers as soon as possible. Vilsack encouraged fuel markers to apply with the Environmental Protection Agency to sell E15 and said he will push the agency to approve applications as quickly as possible.

“If we’re worried about the Straits of Hormuz, if we’re worried about Iran, one way we can be less stressful about this is getting E15 into the tanks of cars across this country,” Vilsack said at the conference, hosted by the Renewable Fuels Association.

Expanding production and consumption of biofuel is a national-safety matter, Vilsack said. Ethanol is already saving consumers money when they fill up their tanks, reducing the cost of other things. Vilsack said that when food prices rise, some are quick to blame farmers, but it’s the price of oil that raises the cost of transporting food, which is passed on to consumers.

The industry’s advances in technology and efficiency have been noticed by its foes, including some in the oil sector. Vilsack said opponents of ethanol have called for the end of the Renewable Fuel Standard, a key incentive for biofuel production. He called on the renewable-fuel community to better market its product and educate the public about the reason it is so important for the U.S., particularly regarding air quality and national security.

The USDA is doing its part to encourage biofuel development and innovation. The department gave five loan guarantees to biorefineries developing processes for cellulosic ethanol and other types of advanced biofuel, and it will continue to do so. Vilsack noted that seven virtual research centers were created nationwide to find feedstock for ethanol production.

“We are hard at work to try to determine the next great idea in this industry,” Vilsack said.

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