Environmental groups filed a petition with EPA this week claiming that “millions of acres of wildlife habitat” have been converted to corn and soybean crops to produce biofuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard, based on a June report to Congress, which offered no specific conclusions about land use change related to biofuels production.
The petition claims that previously uncultivated land is being used to grow biofuels feedstocks, even though the amount of land used for corn and soybean production has declined since the RFS was instituted.
“The acreage data is very clear: farmers are planting fewer acres to corn today than we did when the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) was expanded,” said National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president Lynn Chrisp. “And it’s not just corn acres that have fallen. The area planted to principal crops is shrinking nationwide. The reality of what is happening on today’s farms is not accurately portrayed in the petition.”
NCGA notes that farmers planted fewer acres to corn in 2018 (89.1 million) than they did when the RFS was expanded in 2007 (93.5 million). During that same time, ethanol production expanded from 6.5 billion gallons to 15.8 billion gallons. Overall, the area planted to principal crops in the U.S. has fallen from 328.6 million acres in 2000 to 322 million acres in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
Meanwhile, the average corn yield has increased by more than 25 bushels per acre since 2007 and doing so with fewer resources and improved farming practices. Farmers have doubled yields while the cutting use of primary nutrients per bushel in half between 1980 and 2014.
Chrisp says they welcome new dialog with environmental organizations. “Environmental groups recognized the emissions reductions and health benefits of biofuels when they backed the RFS. This energy and environmental policy has been a success, delivering GHG reductions, improving air quality, saving consumers money at the pump and reducing our dependence on oil,” said Chrisp.