A leading agricultural economist says it is nearly impossible to verify the reasons for why farmers around the world change their land use, much less to blame it on biofuels production in the U.S.
"There are just too many variables that go into a land use decision and we simply don't have that data to make assumptions as to why,” said Bruce Babcock, economist with Iowa State University's Center for Agriculture and Rural Development. Babcock and other experts in climate change and biofuels policy spoke yesterday at the Land Use and Carbon Impacts of Corn-Based Ethanol Conference, hosted in St. Louis by the National Corn Growers Association.
"We are measuring something that is unmeasurable,” Babcock said.
Indirect land use change is a controversial theory that predicts that using biofuels made from U.S. corn and soybeans causes a farmer halfway around the world to make a land use decision to plow up virgin land to replace feed. It also suggests that any carbon emissions resulting from this land use change should be ascribed to biofuels.
The concern among those gathered at the conference here in St. Louis is that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to include indirect land use change theory in its revision of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS2), which could create what some consider a nationwide carbon penalty for biofuels compared with gasoline.
"There is a problem in that we are intertwining greenhouse gas policy with biofuels law,” said Bruce McCarl, Texas A&M University economist and climate change specialist. "They really need to be regulated separately.”
McCarl believes a bigger concern is that other countries around the world are not receiving any carbon penalty for developing their virgin land for crop production.
"If we want to get out of this indirect land use debate, we simply need to have Brazil institute some greenhouse gas emissions penalty for when it develops its land,” McCarl said.
The conference continues through this afternoon in St. Louis.