(Posted Tue. Oct 1st, 2013)
Oct. 1: Last week, National Corn Growers Association Director of Biofuels Dr. Pam Keck sat down with The Market Hour to discuss a new report released from researchers in the Netherlands. This study shows that current models assessing the impact of crops grown for biofuel production on land use do not accurately reflect current production and land use realities.
“The results of that study are actually great news,” Keck explained. “When corn and corn ethanol are produced, a particular greenhouse gas score is assigned to it. Sometimes referred to as a carbon footprint, these scores are assigned to other agricultural products and production processes also.
“These footprints are broken down into direct or indirect inputs. This particular study deals with indirect inputs for crops used to make biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel.”
Keck explained that this research has important implications for those interested in improving the way in which policymakers determine the true environmental benefit of biofuels.
“Production agriculture gets a pretty big ding for something called indirect land use change. The basic premise being, farmers have responded to the increased demand for biofuels they have produced more crops for that use. For instance, they have produced more corn to meet increased demand for ethanol.
“This idea of land use change has been quite controversial as many people believe that the number currently being used to assess the carbon footprint is not accurate. This inaccuracy comes from the mathematical models used to determine the score. Basically, the number that comes out of the model is only as good as the numbers or assumptions put into the model. So, people are concerned about the accuracy of the numbers being put into these models.
“This study, for the first time ever, went out and actually looked at the amount of global land used for biofuel production instead of just relying on the number others use. They found that farmers have made great strides in producing more crops using fewer resources. They decreased use of fertilizer and irrigation while producing a larger crop on less land. Over the last ten years, the researchers found that the increases in production agriculture have far outweighed any changes that have happened in the use of agricultural land for biofuels. In fact, they found that twice as much agricultural land has been used for urbanization, particularly in China and the European Union. Much more agricultural land has actually gone to other uses rather than for the production of biofuels.
“This finding is important because the findings used to determine the indirect land use score for biofuels are used to create public policy. For instance, corn ethanol is categorized as a conventional biofuel instead of an advanced biofuel or as cellulosic. The amount of ethanol that comes from corn that can go toward policy goals is limited, in part, because of this indirect land use score. “
Keck then explained that NCGA works tirelessly to promote ethanol by showing how the newest scientific evidence is relevant to the decisions made about America’s national energy policies.
“NCGA keeps close track of the data coming out that relates to the determination of ethanol’s greenhouse gas score. We then take this data to the people charged with setting biofuel policies, such as people at the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, and advocate for changes that would ensure the most accurate information possible is put into the models that they use when making decisions.”
To listen to the full interview, click here.
Notably, the information used to assess the environmental impact of agricultural and biofuel production will continue to grow in importance as the media increases coverage of climate change-related topics. Last week, the International Panel on Climate Change released its fifth annual Climate Change Assessment Report which calls for an intensification of efforts to address related issues. By ensuring accurate information pertaining to the environmental impacts of corn farming and ethanol production becomes more widely accepted, NCGA hopes to maintain farmers’ ability to grow both crops and markets.
To see the full report, click here.