It's all about the numbers

Published on: 08:59AM Sep 09, 2008
 I’m here in Ames, Iowa, attending the 6th annual Biobased Industry Outlook Bioconference at Iowa State University. One of the underlying tennants of the conference, I've concluded, is that your view of the future of biofuels depends on which numbers you like to look at.
For instance, there is great debate over how biofuels impact land use – in other words, if by using domestic corn acres for fuel, we create insufficient supply of corn for food, thereby causing other countries like Brazil to plow up rainforest to plant corn and soybeans. The end result, say some, is more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere from tilling up the land.
The numbers various scientists have applied to this debate are all over the place: Over the course of the week I’ve heard 20%, 40%, 50% of of carbon dioxide emitted by land use change related to biofuels?  
There is also much debate on how much corn we can plant that can be used for food, fuel and feed. Which numbers do you crunch? Past corn crop estimates, static numbers or the future with 8 trait stacked corn? According to Monsanto, it's all about the future. "By 2022, Americans can grow 25 billion bushels of corn on the same land base and with the same environmental footprint, only better,” says Ted Crosbie, vice president of Global Plant Breeding, Monsanto.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey sums it up well: “Finding the right numbers and agreeing on how to measure the impacts of biofuels is critical to how we write future biofuels policy.”

It seems the industry has some work to do to in this area. Watch for the coming issues of Farm Journal and Top Producer as we report more on this subject.