ERS reports 10 percent increase in corn acres during Ethanol Decade

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, Aug. 19-The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released a report detailing how farmers altered their land-use decisions in response to the higher demand for corn-based ethanol. Rising gasoline prices and new bioenergy policies stimulated the increase in ethanol production by nine billion gallons, resulting in a ten percent increase of farm acres dedicated to corn from 2000-2009. 

 

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Non-ethanol uses of corn did not increase over the past decade, but “The Ethanol Decade: An Expansion of U.S. Corn Production, 2000-09” reported that while annual U.S. ethanol production increased nine billion gallons, harvested corn acreage increased 10 percent, or 7.2 million acres, in the same period. Corn used for ethanol increased by 3.7 billion bushels, while total corn production increased by 3.2 billion bushels. 

 

The following graph appears in the report to illustrate the dramatic increase in corn used for ethanol:

 

 

The report details the land-use shift and summarizes that corn acreage increased mostly on farms that previously specialized in soybeans. However, farms shifting from other crops into soybeans offset this shift. ERS also found a simultaneous net expansion of corn and soybean acreage, which resulted from a reduction in cotton acreage, a shift from uncultivated hay to cropland and the expansion of double cropping. The report states that overall, farm-level averages indicate that movement from soybean acreage to corn acreage is offset by other movement into soybean acres.

The average shift from hay, USDA Conservation Reserve Program, or grazing land into cultivated cropland accounted for about a third of the average increase in harvested crop acreage, mostly from hay. 

The report focuses specifically on farm-level evidence for 2006-2008-a period of dramatic corn price increases. It also raised a number of questions about the unintended environmental effects of bioenergy policies.

“The environmental and economic implications of such a large shift in land use depend largely on where these additional corn acres are located,” according to the ERS report. “In this study, we analyze data from a special bioenergy survey of farm operators to determine, for the first time, how farm-level land-use decisions affected corn supplies and competing crops. Previous studies suggest that bioenergy policies may have unintended impacts, including those on the environment, the livestock sector, and food prices due to increased competition for corn.”

ERS found that increased conversion of hay or pasture to crop production or increased double-cropped acreage and the use of more inputs may accelerate nutrient runoff and soil erosion. According to the report, shifts from relatively low-input crops to high-input crops could affect environmental quality.

Click here to view the entire report. 

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