Corn Commentary

Farmers Beware: EPA In Hyperdrive

epa logoThe Environmental Protection Agency loves family farmers. Let me count the ways…ethanol, atrazine, carbofuran, water quality issue related to livestock operations…the list goes on. Like a drunken sailor on shore leave one of government’s most crucial agencies seems to be out of control and stumbling from one issue to the next with complete disregard for science, protocol or the future of our most important profession.

 From a bogus land use argument that could curtail future ethanol expansion to an ongoing review of atrazine, arguably the most widely studied and repeatedly exonerated chemical of all time, EPA has clearly lost its grip on its operational directive if not its mission.

 The most recent example is EPA’s decision to move forward with banning carbofuran (Furadan), one of the few effective products against rootworm available on the market. (It also makes non-biotech corn production possible to service important overseas markets).

 “EPA’s unprecedented attempt to deny any review of its science deprives the registrant and the growers who use carbofuran the right to prove that the product is safe, and represents a bold abuse of power in contradiction of the agency’s earlier commitments to transparency and good science,” said Dr. Michael Morelli, Director of Global Regulatory Affairs for FMC Corporation.  (more…)

Indirect Land Use Has Direct Effect on Family Farmers


Indirect land use is the theory that corn-based ethanol changes the crops planted on acres in the Midwest and through a series of assumptions (think butterfly effect), changes the face of the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil.  We also think it’s a bunch of baloney.  (Click Here for more on today’s guest blogger.)

The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently penalizing corn-based ethanol for causing the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest in their current revision of the Renewable Fuels Standard (also called RFS II).  They have no scientific basis to do so.

 They are also forgetting that corn growers are increasing their yields at an exponential rate due to top-quality genetics and breeding.  Just today, reports from the USDA forecast a yield two percent higher than they forecasted last month and seven percent higher than 2008.  If what they say is true, this year will mark the highest bushels per acre on record and the second highest corn production, behind 2007. (more…)

Senate Ag Holds Cap and Trade Hearing

One of Senator Tom Harkin’s last acts as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday was to preside over a hearing on cap and trade and its effects on agriculture. Harkin expressed concerns about the structure of a cap and trade marketing system. “Markets that aren’t properly and carefully regulated will blow up and the economy and environmental goals of the program will blow up with it,” Harkin said.

Prior to hearing testimony from producers of corn and soybeans, dairy, rice and grapes, Ranking Republican Member Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia noted that Texas A&M University’s Agricultural and Food Policy Center (AFPC) last week released a report illustrating the effects of the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act on 98 representative farms in its database.

“The study says that 71 of 98 farms will be worse off under the House cap and trade plan, even in the early years of the program. Most concerning, the 27 farms that benefit do so only because other producers go out of business,” Chambliss said. “Not one rice farm or cattle ranch benefits, while only one cotton operation and one dairy benefit mainly due to the fact that they both grow a significant amount of feed grains.”

Ohio farmer Fred Yoder, past president of the National Corn Growers Association, was the first to testify on the producer panel and he raised concerns about language in the House bill that would penalize early actors who commenced no-till or other conservation practices earlier than 2001 and would be prohibited from participating in a carbon market. He also drew attention to an important provision in the bill related to the Renewable Fuels Standards that prohibits EPA from considering indirect land use change when conducting their life cycle analysis for corn based ethanol until a peer reviewed study can be conducted to verify the scientific accuracy of the current modeling. “The language in the House bill is a step in the right direction towards sound science a more rational life cycle analysis. We would urge the Senate to include the same provision in its version of the climate bill,” Yoder said.

Among those offering testimony on the subject of regulating carbon markets was David Miller, Iowa farmer and Chief Science Officer for AgraGate Climate Credits Corporation, a company affiliated with Iowa Farm Bureau. Miller gave his input on ways to structure and streamline the carbon credit program so that it would be an incentive to farmers and benefit the soil. “Market transparency is critical to the smooth operation of a carbon market, so that prices are publicly reported and readily available,” he told the committee. He also indicated that right now offsets are valued differently for soil, forestry, or methane and value can even vary according to geographic location. “All these variances increase the transaction of costs associated with marketing carbon offsets,” Miller said. “The end brings fewer returns to the farmer or rancher hoping to enroll. That’s no incentive.”

This was the second hearing on the climate change bill in the Senate Agriculture committee and may not be the last. New committee chair Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas voiced concerns about passing cap-and-trade legislation at all this year. “If we do move forward, the regulation of carbon markets is something we need to get right,” said Lincoln.

Unintended Consequences from Unintended Consequences

Trying to measure unintended consequences of biofuels production could result in more unintended consequences.

NCGA Land UseThat’s the main message corn growers have for regulators who are trying to predict the future by using unproven models to determine lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of fuels like ethanol. At the National Corn Growers Association Land Use and Carbon Impacts of Corn-based Ethanol conference this week in St. Louis, NCGA CEO Rick Tolman explained that the problem is vague direction that was put in the 2007 energy bill’s Renewable Fuels Standard. “We had some arcane language put in there that said we’ll take a look at indirect land change and its implications as an unintended consequence,” Tolman said. “What we think is there’s an unintended consequence of the unintended consequence, which may be that we may in fact start using more imported oil because of this language we have regulation that exceeds our ability to measure.”

Tolman says California’s low carbon fuel standard is an example of how using unproven models that fail to use updated information or accurate future predictions of new technology and higher yields is going to have the opposite effect of what was intended - that is, using less imported fossil fuels. “After 2010, you won’t be able to sell ethanol in California,” said Tolman. “And it is really the only viable low carbon fuel that’s available in California, so that means more oil.”

The corn growers are hoping regulators will take a closer look at what they are trying to do and consider the impact that it will have down the road.

Listen to an interview with Rick Tolman here:

Land Use Rules & Regs Vitally Important

NCGA Land Use ConferenceKicking off the NCGA Land Use and Carbon Impacts of Corn-Based Ethanol Conference and welcoming participants was Conference Chairman, Jamey Cline, NCGA Director Biofuels and Business Development. I spoke with him after the opening session.

Jamey says that regulations from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and from EPA on the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) have brought up a number of questions and this conference was put together to ask them and receive answers in a public forum with various stakeholders. A lot of these current or proposed regulations are based on assumptions and economic theory and so questions need to be asked to make sure the latest data is being used and reasonable predictions are made for the future. He says that these issues are extremely important to agribusiness and corn growers in particular because if the CARB regs hold up, by 2012 they will effectively shut off that market to ethanol. Additionally, one presenter said that due to the proposed climate change bill and RFS, approximately 27.1 million acres would be taken out of production across the Unites States. That would have a huge impact on our economy, especially in rural areas.

He also speaks about the various models being used or referenced on the topics like land use change and life cycle analysis.

You can listen to my interview with Jamey here:

Land Use Study Does a Belly Flop In Scientific Community


Remember the old, very successful beef commercials that had a grandmotherly character asking “Where’s The Beef?” Well a growing number of real scientists, the kind with actual degrees in their field of expertise, are asking where’s the science?

It seems having a word processor, some passing knowledge of an issue, and some good connections with science magazines or journals who support your position is all it takes these days to get published like an actual scientist.

The most recent example of this emerging trend has degreed and pedigreed academics calling out a high profile paper on land use by Tim Searchinger as nothing more than ideology draped in a lab coat to disguise it as science.

Searchinger, who has questionable credentials regarding land use, contends in assessing the carbon\environmental footprint of ethanol production we must also assess any related changes in land use in the U.S. and internationally. Specifically, he states using increasing amounts of corn in the U.S. to make ethanol must have a direct correlation with cutting down rain forest in Brazil.

Professor John Mathews and Dr. Hao Tan, researchers from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, undertook an exhaustive analysis of Searchinger et al. which revealed that the framework used was inappropriate in that it started with faulty assumptions. In fact they say Searchinger et al’s pseudo-science fell far short of acceptable scientific standards because it ignores current information on domestic and international corn yield trends and credible carbon sequestration information, both of which are readily available. Even more concerning is the inability of other scientists to replicate Searchinger’s research.

When a researcher tells you your work lacks transparency and scientific integrity, that is about as harsh as it gets.

“If you wished to put U.S. ethanol production in the worst possible light, assuming the worst possible set of production conditions guaranteed to give the worst possible set of indirect land use effects, then the assumptions would not be far from those actually presented in the Searchinger et al. paper,” commented Dr. Hao Tan. “Frankly, better science upon which to base (EPA) rule-making is available today.”

The Mathews and Tan analysis identified six areas in which Searchinger et al. fell short:

  • Direct plantings of biofuels crops around the world are ignored, and instead a spike in U.S. corn-based ethanol is considered a trigger;
  • The U.S. spike is met exclusively by growing corn - but other ways of meeting the U.S. spike, all involving fewer GHG emissions, are ignored;
  • The U.S. spike met entirely within the U.S. - without regard to trade (such as half of the spike being met by Brazilian sugarcane and imported into the U.S.);
  • The Searchinger et al. calculations of carbon release are based on trends recorded in the 1990s but are projected forward up to 2016;
  • Improvements in biomass yields around the world are not considered;
  • The U.S. spike leads to indirect effects around the world without regard to regulatory limits (even in the U.S.).

Ag Economist on Indirect Land Use

The International Federation of Agricultural Journalists Congress/Ag Media Summit in Fort Worth this week featured a “Great Debate” between retired Kansas State ag economist Barry Flinchbaugh and former Texas congressman Charlie Stenholm. Their topics were ag policy and trade but some of the focus was on the new cap and trade legislation, climate change and indirect land use.

During an interview after the debate, Flinchbaugh expanded on his comments about the issue climate change and renewable fuels.

“Front and center is renewable fuels and climate change and you can’t separate the two. And the question is global warming a hoax is a stupid question because the political system worldwide has decided that its for real and things are going to happen,” said Flinchbaugh. “The Supreme Court gave the EPA the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. So to pretend we can whip this, we being agriculture is ridiculous. We can’t whip this and we need to get inside the tent and help make the decisions.”

Listen to joint interview with Flinchbaugh conducted by Domestic Fuel reporter Joanna Schroeder and Kansas Ag Network reporter Greg Akagi.

Directing Debate on Indirect Land Use

Debate over the irrational concept of indirect land use change (ILUC) continues to rage on Capitol Hill and in the media.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of Energy Victory, had a commentary last week in Roll Call that hit the nail on the head when it comes to the irrationality of ILUC. Zubrin writes, “Whatever one might think of the right of poor foreign countries to economic development, the indirect analysis method of carbon accounting must be rejected by American policymakers because, if it is embraced, it must perforce prevent the implementation of any positive policies here, not just in biofuel production, but in any field of endeavor whatsoever.”

Zubrin says if ILUC is applied to biofuels, it should also be applied to “all measures that improve the economy, education, health, the environment or technology.” Why? “Because all of these help humanity, and so long as humanity engages in any activities that cause carbon emissions, anything that helps humanity can also be said to cause global warming.” That is simply brilliant.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said last week that he expects the controversial indirect land use change proposal for the renewable fuels standard will be removed in the final EPA rule.

“Quite frankly I can tell you we’ll never see it,” Harkin said. “With so many factors influencing land use in other nations, it’s impossible to show that biofuel crops are responsible. If the concept remains in EPA’s final rule, I’m relatively confident we have the votes to say no and overturn that.”

Finally, check out a Reuters commentary by Noam Ross last week on “Why the Ethanol Debate Isn’t Helping Anyone.” He points out, “The crux of the problem is not in how we measure the impact of ethanol, it is that developing world farmers clear and burn forests so they can plant more crops. Ethanol is just one of the pressures that speed the disastrous destruction of these forests.” Ross suggests that the ethanol industry become engaged in finding solutions “to reduce the pressure to clear land for agriculture by lobbying for global forest protection and working with partners in the agricultural industry to support technology transfer to the rural poor.”

This is what we need - a rational approach that involves helping the world produce food and fuel more efficiently and sustainably, instead of quibbling about how to measure something irrational.

Senators Warn Against “Premature” Decision on Indirect Land Use

A bipartisan group of 12 Senators last week called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) not to propose regulations assuming that greater U.S. biofuels use would increase carbon dioxide emissions. In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, the senators argued that because the data and methods for calculating “indirect land use changes” such as from forest or grassland to crops are not adequately developed they should not be used in ways making it harder for biofuels to meet requirements for reduced carbon emissions from advanced biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

GrassleyOn Monday, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) took the issue to the Senate floor, pointing out a number of reasons why measuring indirect emissions of greenhouse gas reductions is still far from a perfect science and should not be used to make decisions that could affect the move toward using less fossil fuels.

“There are a number of assumptions that can affect the conclusions about indirect land use changes. With any model, if you put garbage in, you’ll get garbage out. I want to make sure that the EPA isn’t putting garbage in,” said Grassley. “I want to make sure they know yields per acre for corn have doubled between 1970 and today. I want the EPA to know that nitrogen fertilizer use per acre has been declining since 1985. The EPA also needs to know that the ethanol industry today is vastly more efficient that it was just a few years ago. Ethanol producers use one-fifth less energy today than they did in 2001. More fuel is being produced from the same amount or even less land.”

Grassley concluded that “agricultural practices and land use decisions in other countries are not driven by U.S. biofuels polices and even if they were, we have no accurate way to measure it scientifically.”

Corn Ethanol Land Use Impact is Almost ZERO

Expansion of corn ethanol production to 15 billion gallons per year in 2015 is unlikely to result in the conversion of non-agricultural lands anywhere, according to a new study released today at the National Ethanol Conference by Air Improvement Resource (AIR).

The study found that increasing crop yields and growing supplies of nutrient-dense feed co-products are likely to nullify the need to expand global cropland to meet the corn ethanol requirements of the Renewable Fuels Standard.

According to Thomas Darlington with AIR, indirect land-use affects of corn-based ethanol would be smaller than other studies have estimated. Darlington points out that the earlier studies neglect to factor in yield improvements and “land use credits” from the use of distillers grains. His research also lays out a “philosophical” assumption that if the U.S. exports are constant or increasing even with ethanol, no international land use effects should be assigned to corn ethanol.

Read Darlington’s report here.

Listen to his comments at the NEC here.

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