Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Growing ethanol on conservation lands

One of the assumptions in our recent paper on the impact of increasing corn ethanol production on the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is that farmers could start to plant crops on land enrolled in a federal conservation program.

The latest data shows that may be happening. The area of U.S. croplands enrolled in the federal Conservation Reserve Program decreased from by 2.12 million acres since July of last year (using February data), a drop of 6%. The NY Times reports that the drop was caused by high commodity prices, driven in part by the ethanol boom.

Farmers sign a ten-year contract when entering land in the CRP. As it stands, that land cannot be returned to cultivation until the contract expires. It is worth remembering that, despite the headlines and echoing blog posts, the area of CRP lands had been increasing for the past ten year, reaching an all-time high last year. This recent drop does not negate those changes. So the real question is what happens to the 9.5 million acres of land for which the contracts expire in the next three years.

No comments: