Energy Issues and Sustainable Production

In Environmental, Ethanol, Farming by Cindy

Energy issues relating to the production of corn and soybeans are more complex than some would like to think.

That’s the basic conclusion of a recent paper issued by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST).

“Quantifying energy issues associated with agricultural systems, even for a two-crop corn (Zea mays L.) and soybean (Glycine max [L.] Merr.) rotation, is not a simple task,” reads the abstract of the paper. “It becomes even more complicated if the goal is to include all aspects of sustainability (i.e., economic, environmental and social).”

That’s why the whole issue of lifecycle assessment and related indirect land use change is so difficult. In fact, the authors of the paper choose to say indirect land use change might be nearly impossible to evaluate with any degree of certainty, explaining that “because of the uncertainties involved, it may not be possible to reliably model the indirect effects of biofuels outside of the country in which they are produced.”

The relatively brief paper considers many key agricultural sustainability issues, including nitrogen management, economic viability, market prices and public policy. The authors ultimately make suggestions that might address some concerns, including:

– quantify real versus perceived effects of no-tillage on C sequestration and the associated GHG mitigation value;
– find ways to decrease adoption barriers for energy-conserving practices;
– develop integrated usage of renewable fuels and co-products; and
– develop consistent federal, state, and local policies for bioenergy development to provide guidance for private and public investment.

Interesting reading. The full text of”>’Energy Issues Affecting Corn/Soybean Systems: Challenges for Sustainable Production” may be downloaded free of charge on the CAST website at, along with many of CAST’s other scientific publications. The paper also is available in hard copy for a shipping/handling fee.