Posted 4 June 2013 in
A recent study out of Rice University has predicted hardship for biofuel production as a result of climate change. While we agree that fossil fuel-induced climate change will indeed wreak havoc on agriculture writ large, it’s important to clear up a few points from this study. The paper claims that because our climate will become increasingly harsh and unpredictable, we will not be able to grow as many crops and what we do produce will need more water. But what these researchers don’t account for is the innovation that America’s farmers have shown each and every year in dealing with unforgiving weather patterns. Instead of hypothesizing about what farming will look like in 40 years, let’s look at what we’ve done in the past to inform our predictions of what will happen in the future.
We have been in drought for years, and that should have hurt production. But according to this report by Field to Market, which looked at 1980-2011, we’ve been handling it well:
Production is up: corn production has doubled
Land use is down: we use 1/3 less land to produce a bushel of corn
Water use is down: just 13% of the nation’s cropland is irrigated, and for corn that is irrigated, water use has been cut in half
Through the ingenuity and forward thinking of America’s farmers, we’ve increased production, decreased the amount of land it takes to grow, and are more efficient with our water resources than ever before. All of this progress has been in the midst of devastating drought that should have resulted in the opposite happening. We have done it before, and we’ll do it again.
But never mind that the study doesn’t account for bettering technology and practices, the study looks forward for 40 years to criticize the RFS, a policy which only has increasing volumetric targets for biofuel for the next nine years. It’s clear that a study working on a timeline that is so far from synching up with the policy it is aimed to criticize cannot be taken seriously.
In sum, farmers are getting more efficient in all aspects of crop production, and you can count on that trend to continue.
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