Plowing prairies for grains: Biofuel crops replace grasslands nationwide

Spring cultivation of an irrigated field in Pinal County, Arizona. As farmers across the nation expand cropland area to meet demand for corn and other crops, they are often forced to till and plant increasingly marginal land. Photo: Tyler Lark
Spring cultivation of an irrigated field in Pinal County, Arizona. As farmers across the nation expand cropland area to meet demand for corn and other crops, they are often forced to till and plant increasingly marginal land.
Photo: Tyler Lark

Clearing grasslands to make way for biofuels may seem counterproductive, but University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers show in a study today (April 2, 2015) that crops, including the corn and soy commonly used for biofuels, expanded onto 7 million acres of new land in the U.S. over a recent four-year period, replacing millions of acres of grasslands.

The study — from UW-Madison graduate student Tyler Lark, geography Professor Holly Gibbs, and postdoctoral researcher Meghan Salmon — is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters and addresses the debate over whether the recent boom in demand for common biofuel crops has led to the carbon-emitting conversion of natural areas. It also reveals loopholes in U.S. policies that may contribute to these unintended consequences.

“We realized there was remarkably limited information about how croplands have expanded across the United States in recent years,” says Lark, the lead author of the study. “Our results are surprising because they show large-scale conversion of new landscapes, which most people didn’t expect.”

The conversion to corn and soy alone, the researchers say, could have emitted as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year — the equivalent of 28 million more cars on the road.

The study is the first comprehensive analysis of land-use change across the U.S. between 2008 and 2012, in the “critical time period” following passage of the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), and during a “new era” of agriculture and biofuel demand, Lark and Gibbs say. The results may aid policymakers as Congress debates whether to reform or repeal parts of the RFS, which requires blending of gasoline with biofuels that are supposed to be grown only on pre-existing cropland, in order to minimize land-use change and its associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Lark recently visited Washington, D.C., to present the findings to the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Office of Management and Budget, which share responsibility for rule-making and review of the RFS.

For instance, the study found that 3.5 million acres of corn and soy grown during this time period was produced on new, rather than pre-existing, cropland, rendering it potentially ineligible for renewable fuel production under the RFS. However, this went undetected due to limitations in current federal monitoring, which captures only national-level, aggregate land-use change rather than the high-resolution changes found in the study.

The study also showed that expanding the geographic scope of another policy, the Sodsaver provision of the 2014 Farm Bill, could better prevent widespread tilling of new soils. This policy reduces federal subsidies to farmers who grow on previously uncultivated land, but it applies in only six Northern Plains states. The researchers say the findings suggest a nationwide Sodsaver is needed to protect remaining native ecosystems, since roughly two-thirds of new cropland conversion occurred outside of these states.

Read more: Plowing prairies for grains: Biofuel crops replace grasslands nationwide


See Also

The Latest on: Biofuels and grasslands

[google_news title=”” keyword=”Biofuels and grasslands” num_posts=”10″ blurb_length=”0″ show_thumb=”left”]

via Google News


The Latest on: Biofuels and grasslands
  • Study estimates land use change emissions for six aviation fuel pathways
    on July 22, 2024 at 6:52 am

    A new IIASA-led study offers the first detailed estimates of land use change emissions for six sustainable aviation fuel production pathways. The authors focused on both food and non-food raw ...

  • American Farmers’ Next Hot Commodity Is Canola for Biofuels
    on July 22, 2024 at 3:00 am

    The seed’s oil, more familiar in healthy cooking, has the potential to play a bigger role in low-emitting fuel markets. November’s election poses some risks.

  • Low-intensity grassland is better able to withstand the consequences of climate change
    on July 21, 2024 at 5:00 pm

    A team of researchers from UFZ and iDiv has found that grassland optimized for high yield responds much more sensitively to periods of drought than less intensively used meadows and pastures.

  • Report: SD ethanol plants release hazardous air pollutants
    on July 17, 2024 at 11:00 pm

    Biofuels are painted as a greener energy alternative to fossil fuels but a new study found the industry produces plenty of its own air pollutants. American biofuel plants reported emitting nearly 13 ...

  • Biden outlines regulatory plans for the rest of his term
    on July 8, 2024 at 10:36 am

    The president's future regulations are vulnerable to being overturned if Donald Trump wins the White House in November.

  • Biofuels Source Is Carbon-Negative (IMAGE)
    on July 24, 2023 at 1:26 am

    The study, by Dr. David Tilman, University of Minnesota in St. Paul, MN and colleagues, was titled "Carbon-Negative Biofuels from Low-Input High-Diversity Grassland Biomass." ...

  • How do human activities impact on ecosystems?
    on July 2, 2023 at 6:35 am

    On a large scale, natural vegetation is removed and replaced with either by crops for food, the production of biofuels ... States much of the temperate grassland has been removed to grow cereals.

  • Why grasslands are so important
    on August 18, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    The world's natural grasslands might sometimes seem a bit overlooked and under valued – but they’re hugely important environments. Some of the world’s best-known and iconic wildlife makes its home on ...

  • The Next Breadbasket
    on August 13, 2020 at 6:49 am

    Since 2004 some six million acres have been leased to both foreign and domestic investors for everything from forestry products to biofuels to ... Brazil’s cerrado grasslands into one of the ...

  • Grasslands Ecosystems Profile
    on July 19, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    Those of us whose livelihoods depend on grasslands are vitally aware of their value, but many of us who only use the products these ecosystems provide are not. We know that grasslands contain ...

via  Bing News


What's Your Reaction?
Don't Like it!
I Like it!
Scroll To Top