The Agriculture Department released in-depth analysis recently of U.S. land use patterns revealing total cropland decreased by 34-million acres from 2002 to 2007, its lowest level since the government began collecting the data in 1945.
The report shows significant increases in forestland, grassland and rangeland during the five-year period. It also cites a significant rise in urban sprawl. Land in urban areas was estimated at 61 million acres in 2007, up nearly two percent from 2002 and 17 percent more than in 1990.
According to the Renewable Fuels Association, or RFA, USDA’s new information helps prove increased ethanol production has not resulted in expansion of total U.S. cropland.
In a statement RFA President Bob Dinneen said, “Using real data from the real world, this report from USDA shows yet again that U.S. cropland is not expanding in response to increased ethanol demand. The report also shows that forest and grassland increased dramatically during a period when ethanol production more than tripled.”
Last year, the Obama Administration released new guidelines for renewable fuels. To help curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the 2007 Energy Bill mandated an increase in the use of biofuels. One of the main sticking points of the provision commonly known as the Renewable Fuels Standard 2, or RFS2, has been the inclusion of the controversial “indirect land-use theory.” The theory suggests when corn – ethanol’s predominant feedstock – is diverted to biofuel production farmers in other countries will plant sensitive land to compensate for the reduced food production.
Dinneen this week encouraged policymakers and regulators responsible for penalizing crop-based biofuels for indirect land use to take a close look at the USDA report. He said, “Our renewable energy policies and regulations should be based on what is actually happening on the ground, not on hypothetical results from black box economic models.”
Increasing nearly 2 billion gallons every year, the Renewable Fuels Standard requires U.S. motorists to use 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022. While the boost in required consumption would appear to be a positive event, the ethanol industry continues to face significant challenges. Critics blame the homegrown fuel for higher food prices, and a 54-cent-per-gallon tariff on imported ethanol as well as a 45-cent-per-gallon incentive known as the blender's credit expire this week.