I am proud to be a farmer for many reasons; one of those reasons is because the corn I grow goes into ethanol. I have used gas blended with ethanol for many years in my vehicles and have never experienced any problems with them because of my choice of fuel. I also believe one of the greatest threats to our national security is our dependence on fuel from abroad. I truly think we need to be developing other fuel sources so we can someday move on to a renewable fuel source, I also recognize such technology is many, many years away.
That means we will be reliant on fossil fuels for the majority of our supply, so I also think it is good that we do support ethanol. It lessens our dependence on something we cannot control and supports our farmers at the same time, to me that is a win/ win. That is why I bristled last week when I saw a report from the AP on the dangers ethanol posed to the environment. The contention was that run off and fertilizer from increased corn production had found its way into the Gulf of Mexico and was now affecting the fisheries. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big seafood fan and anything that affects the shrimp population is a problem in my mind.
Fertilizer run off is a problem, but I really don’t think the finger should be pointed at farmers growing corn for ethanol. Those of us that grow corn value fertilizer like gold (which also seems to be the standard it is priced on) and we work very hard to minimize the amount that does leave the field. Because fertilizer is valued like gold we also soil test and only apply the amounts needed. Those who are sloppy with their fertilizer and lose most of it are soon out of business.
We have also worked very diligently on soil conservation putting in terraces, waterways and buffer strips to keep run off out of our streams and rivers. The amount of sediment leaving most fields is very, very small. Conservation measures are often mandated especially when land leaves a conservation program like CRP. That was the reporter’s next point against ethanol. Too many acres of conservation lands have been plowed under and planted to corn.
We all know that the Conservation Reserve Program was very successful in removing marginal (and some not so marginal acres from production). We also all know that this program was one that suffered greatly due to budget cuts. Many acres were not accepted back into the program or if they were it was at lower rates that made farming them more attractive.
I am a big proponent of grasslands and I must admit I cringe every time I see one of these CRP fields plowed up. I am also a proponent of making a living and if those acres are more profitable as fields of corn then so be it. If your argument against ethanol is the conversion of CRP into farmland then your real problem is with where we spend the money, i.e. conservation programs versus ethanol subsidies. On a related note, any CRP acres have had conservation measures already applied to them and therefore have lessened any run off or erosion.
We can debate the subsidies on ethanol all day. However, I really do not think ethanol or the corn used to produce it should be blamed for the problems in the Gulf. If we do have a problem with fertilizer run off in the Gulf I would probably start with looking at run off in urban areas. Many times I drive through towns and housing developments and see water running down the street and into the gutters. This run off is coming off of very green and highly fertilized lawns. My guess is that they are fertilized at a much higher level than our corn fields.
I am convinced that ethanol is both good for our environment and for our national security. I do think we need to look into the problems in the Gulf and work toward finding a solution. But let’s make sure we know where the problem is. In my mind our support of ethanol comes down to choice to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and supporting our farmers. To me that is an easy choice.