Corn Commentary

Corn Acreage Report for the Birds

A new report from the National Wildlife Federation states that increased corn acres in the Prairie Pothole Region of Minnesota, Iowa and North and South Dakota has helped to drive out wildlife. It attributes these increased acres to high ethanol demand and says it happened in three ways … plowing on previously unfarmed land, taking farmland out of the Conservation Reserve Program, and rotating crops into corn.

The report acknowledges a lack of key information:

“Data are not systematically collected on the extent and location of ‘new breakings’ or plowing of previously untilled land. The available data are either several years old or cover small geographic areas.” Further: “Sodbusting is even more difficult to quantify in Iowa and Minnesota, as FSA has not collected new breakings data for these states and there is very little prairie left to plow.”

The report, which was just released, also leaves out current crop acreage information, choosing the years 2005-2007. Now, ethanol demand has been increasing since 2007 (from 3 billion to 4.2 billion bushels), and yet corn acreage has gone down.

In Iowa, corn acreage dropped from 14.2 million in 2007 to 13.7 million in 2009. In Minnesota, corn acreage went down from 8.4 million to 7.6 million. In North Dakota, acreage dropped from 2.56 million to 1.95 million. Only South Dakota saw an increase, from 4.95 to 5.o million.

Granted, these are state totals, not totals for the Prairie Pothole Region. But they point to a significant reality: We’re growing more corn with fewer acres. In 2007, farmers grew 150.7 bushels per acre. In 2009, the number rose to 165.2 bushels per acre. It’s time for the opposition to move beyond the arguments that may have been in vogue a few years ago and embrace the new reality.