Do you understand this land use change stuff?
That’s the question I'm getting from farmers, ethanol plant managers and even a major seed company representative during the Land Use and Carbon Impacts of Corn-Based Ethanol conference hosted by the National Corn Growers Association in St. Louis.
My answer is: Of course! Well, sort-of. Um, maybe. Heck, I don’t know.
It is a very confusing topic. The gist of the land use change debate is whether corn and soybeans grown in the U.S. for biofuels production is causing land use changes around the world; i.e. Brazil plowing up virgin rainforest to plant more soybeans to replace U.S. crops grown for biofuels.
But how do we really account for changes in land use halfway around the world? How do we know the TRUE reason behind a shift in land use?
Even the leading ag economists of our day are scratching their heads on this issue (read Land Use Change Tricky to Measure
). They claim it is simply impossible to verify why land use changes occur.
“We are trying to measure the unmeasurable,” says Bruce Babcock, ag economist with Iowa State University’s Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD). “We would never really be able to verify why those acres changed production plans. Annual agricultural land use is flux, and largely variable.”
Interpretation: No one really knows what influences land use change. Farmers make planting decisions in the U.S. and around the world based on a multitude of factors (weather, markets, weed and insect pressure), not just one factor like increased biofuels production in the U.S.
What I do know is this: legislation is barreling down the pipe based on land use change, and it could impact how farmers produce food and fuel. Someone better figure out the answers to this stuff sooner than later…..
For More Information
Bias Against Biofuels
, Summer Issue of Farm Journal