February 14, 2008

The effect of ethanol on land use

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association has a nice response to the recent study that suggested ethanol was causing land use problems.

As ethanol captures more and more of the U.S. energy market, more attention is being devoted to the resources required to produce this clean-burning, renewable energy source, including the water and land required to grow the crops and process the grain into alcohol.

One study goes so far as to claim that biofuel production is causing a massive shift in land use, robbing conservation programs of acreage and thus would be more damaging in terms of CO2-Greenhouse Gas production than the consumption of the oil it displaces.

In Minnesota, where the biofuels revolution has been underway for more than a decade, that major shift has not occurred to date, not even in the past year despite record jumps in crop prices and land rental rates.

Minnesota has 1.8 million acres enrolled in conservation programs, according to Perry Aasness, state director of the Farm Services Agency (USDA). In September 2006, 382,000 acres were set to expire, and all but 65,000 acres were re-enrolled or granted extensions to continue in the Conservation Reserve Program. That portion taken out of conservation represents 3.6 percent of the total.

The article goes through some additional historical information and makes some good points. One of the most compelling is that not all acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program are environmentally sensitive.

"We have to remember too that CRP was conceived originally as much as a way to take land out of production to improve crop prices, as it was a conservation program," said Aasness. "Not all the acres enrolled are environmentally sensitive land-it can be argued that paying for a slightly smaller number of acres, a higher percentage of which are marginal, gives us a bigger bang for our conservation dollar."

Full Article

And my personal opinion on the situation is that the CRP is real double edged sword for farmers. Some look at the CRP as paying farmers not to produce, as if it were some sort of welfare program for farmers. But the second you suggest acres coming out of the CRP then people cry foul because they see them as environmentally sensitive areas. For farmers, from a public relations perspective, the CRP is a no win situation.

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