Industry: USDA crop report proves farmers can meet food and fuel needs

By Hope Deutscher | June 03, 2009
Report posted June 30, 2009, at 2:15 p.m. CST

Despite projections for near-record corn and record soybean plantings in 2009, total U.S. principal crop acreage declined by 4 million acres, or 1.2 percent, from 2008 levels, according to a USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service crop acreage report released June 30. According to the report, 2009 corn acreage is estimated at 87 million acres, up 1 percent from last year but 7 percent below 2007. It is the second-largest planted acreage since 1946, behind 2007.

This provides further evidence that U.S. farmers can significantly increase production of feed, food, fiber - and fuel, without needing to expand the nation's agricultural land base, the Renewable Fuels Association said. "Because there is unused crop capacity in the United States and strong global stocks of agricultural products, it stands to reason that U.S. demand for agricultural products is not forcing land dislocation and indirect land use change in other countries," said RFA President Bob Dinneen.

"The USDA crop report confirms what farmers and renewable fuels producers have known for a long time - the productive capacity of American agriculture is second to none," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy. "There have been many critics who have created and spread false fears that we cannot produce enough ethanol to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, without driving up food prices or creating food shortages. As this report confirms, nothing could be further from the truth."

Buis said the American farmers are growing the abundant corn crop on 7 percent fewer acres compared to 2007, further dispelling the myth that large land use changes are occurring at home or abroad.

Increased demand for biofuels, such as ethanol, in the U.S. has focused on the potential for land use implications. Critics suggest that biofuels cause significant direct and indirect conversion of land in the U.S. and across the globe. According to the RFA, historical trends indicate that increased U.S. ethanol demand hasn't significantly driven land use change. In the future, U.S. ethanol production is expected to substantially increase; however, the total amount of agricultural land needed to support that will continue to be immaterial in the context of global agricultural land use. Informa Economics, an agricultural consulting firm, projects that the amount of land in the U.S. required to produce 15 billion gallons of grain ethanol in 2015 will amount to less than 1 percent of world cropland.

On May 5, the U.S. EPA released its proposed rulemaking for the second stage of the renewable fuels standard (RFS2), which expands the scope of the program to include all transportation fuels. As established in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the proposed rule required that some renewable fuels achieve greenhouse gas emission reductions compared to the gasoline and diesel fuels they displace. Each fuel has a fuel pathway established, which accounts for GHG emissions that are produce over the fuel's lifecycle. Indirect land use change effects are also included in the fuel pathways of biofuels. When compared to gasoline, with the inclusion of indirect land use change emissions, the EPA estimated that corn-based ethanol reduced GHG emissions by 16 percent. Without the inclusion of indirect land use change, it was shown to reduce emissions by approximately 60 percent. Leaders in the ethanol industry have criticized the EPA's inclusion of indirect land use in the proposed rule for RFS2.

In addition to addressing the indirect land use controversy, Buis said the NASS report also shows that the ethanol industry is not driving up food prices at the grocery store. "We again call on big food companies, led by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and others to stop perpetuating the myth that we can't produce enough corn for both food and fuel," Buis said. "We urge them to look at the facts that prove ‘yes, we can!'"

Similar to last year, corn planting has proceeded behind normal pace due to frequent spring precipitation and cold temperatures during the early season fieldwork and planting activities in the central and eastern Corn Belt, Ohio Valley, and northern Great Plains. On May 10, corn planting was 48 percent complete, down 23 points from 5-year average. In late May, however, dryer conditions allowed farmers to make rapid progress. At the time the survey interviews were conducted, farmers reported that 97 percent of the intended corn acreage had been planted, compared with the 10-year average of 98 percent. Growers expect to harvest 80.1 million acres for grain, up 2 percent from last year.

Producers in the 10 major corn-producing states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) planted 67.9 million acres of corn in 2009, up 3 percent from last year. The largest increase was recorded in Nebraska where growers planted 600,000 more acres of corn than last year. Other notable increases were shown in Iowa, up 400,000 acres; Missouri, up 300,000 acres; and South Dakota, up 250,000 acres from a year ago. The largest decline occurred in North Dakota where corn planted acreage is down 650,000 acres.

"For the third straight year, American farmers are expected to produce a record or near record amount of corn on fewer acres than were farmed a half-century ago," Dinneen said. "Farming efficiencies and new technologies are yielding production gains for American agriculture that continue to exceed demand for food, feed and increasingly renewable fuel alternatives to petroleum. Putting our faith in the American farmer is a far better energy policy than relying on the good graces of foreign oil dictators."