Q&A

DEAR NEW FARM:

I am on a 50-state road trip talking to Americans about environmental sustainability. We have run into many conflicting opinions about whether or not growing crops for fuel is a good idea. There are questions about:

  1. the viability of growing enough crops for the amount of fuel that America requires (especially if the CAFE standards do not decrease);
  2. the likelihood of farmers switching to fuel crops due to subsidies and creating a food deficit; and,
  3. those same farmers caring little about what kind of herbicides/pesticides they are putting into the soil to get a better yield for fuel.

I think this is a really important issue in this country, especially as water is running low in many areas and population is always increasing steadily. I want to be able to address this issue when asked about it - so that I can at least send people in the right direction for really honest, true-cost accounted answers.

Thank you!

Julie Evans
Kentucky

 

DEAR JULIE:

There certainly are a lot of conflicting opinions surrounding the ethanol issue. We hope that you’ll find the following articles to be helpful: Turning crops to ethanol fuel: on the road to energy independence, Green energy, Exploiting clean energy for profit, Corn ethanol takes more energy than it makes, Pursuing a new vision for agricultural policy, U.S. corn exports to drop dramatically due to ethanol growth and Ethanol-fueled high corn prices create ripple effect that touches organic grain outlook. There’s also this New Farm Reader Mail from September, Is it profitable for me to grow corn for ethanol?

One concern within the sustainable farming community is that farmers are taking marginal lands out of conservation programs and planting them in corn to get in on the “gold rush.” And we believe corn-based ethanol is just that. Where will these farmers be three to five years down the road when the bottom falls out? At the very least, they’ll be out a lot of valuable organic matter. This has global warming implications as well, both because organic matter stores carbon and because conventional corn requires vast amounts of synthetic nitrogen (which requires natural gas to produce).

For another word or two on the subject, please read (or reread) New Farm Managing Editor
Greg Bowman’s Editor's Note from our September 2007 newsletter.

We hope this helps further your discussion. Thank you for your good work, and thanks for reading New Farm.

NF

 

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