Report Calls for Action to Reduce Pollution from Increased Corn Production
ANNAPOLIS - Some regional scientists say the rapid expansion of corn based ethanol production is resulting in increased corn production and-without significant new investments in conservation-increased pollution in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay. Fifteen new facilities are proposed or under construction in the Mid-Atlantic region alone.
"To meet the growing demand for corn, the region's farmers are expected to increase corn planted in the watershed by 500,000 to 1 million acres over the next few years," said Tom Simpson, the lead author and Regional Coordinator of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Quality Program. "Even under relatively well-managed crop rotations, increased corn acreage will lead to increased nitrogen fertilizer use, and an increase in nitrogen pollution."
A new report from a group of regional agriculture and environmental scientists, "Biofuels and Water Quality: Meeting the Challenge and Protecting the Environment," estimates that increased corn production could result in an additional 8-16 million pounds of nitrogen pollution and 0.8-1.6 million pounds of phosphorus pollution annually. The expansion of cover crop implementation, and the aggressive use of nutrient management plans could curb those increases.
That increase in corn acreage has already begun. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that this spring, farmers in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania planted nearly a quarter of a million additional acres of corn.
"At a time when the region is committed to reducing pollution it's just common sense that when energy policy dictates an increase in ethanol production, the states and federal government act to reduce the additional pollution," said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker. "Farmers have long demonstrated their willingness to help pay to implement conservation tools, but each year thousands of applications for cost-share conservation funding are denied because of a lack of state and federal government funding."
Other findings and recommendations from the report include:
* Perennial grass, wood, or waste-based cellulosic ethanol production has economic and environmental potential, but technical, production, and policy constraints impede widespread implementation. Federal funding must be provided to support research and development of ecologically sustainable cellulosic ethanol and related technologies that protect water quality.
* Create a program similar to the Conservation Reserve Program that would provide incentives for farmers to grow low-impact alternate crops, such as perennial grasses, for biofuels.
* There are several processes, other than fermentation for ethanol, by which organic wastes, conventional crops, and new specialty energy crops can be converted into useful bioenergy. The region should develop a vision and strategy for a diversified portfolio of biofuels and the feedstocks.
The complete report and additional information is available at cbf.org/ethanol, or at mawaterquality.org/biofuels .