Higher yields mitigate ethanol land grab

Higher corn yields and more efficient ethanol plants will reduce the amount of U. S. land needed to supply the burgeoning fuel ethanol industry, a trade group report said Nov. 12.

A study commissioned by the Renewable Fuels Association said an additional 6.6 million acres of corn will be needed by 2015 to meet targets for ethanol use. Other analyses have suggested as much as 13 million acres would be needed.

“Moving forward, more pronounced gains in productivity promise to mitigate the need for large amounts of new agricultural lands,” said the report, based on work by Informa Economics, a consulting firm.

Corn yields would rise to 182.5 bushels an acre by 2015, Informa said, and ethanol makers would get 2.9 gallons from each bushel. The conversion rate now is 2.8 gallons per bushel.

This year, corn yields are forecast at 153.8 bushels an acre. The U. S. Agriculture Department and a University of Missouri think-tank, the Food and Agricultural Policy Institute, estimate 2015 yields at 169 bushels an acre.

The additional corn plantings could be land shifted from crops less in favour, such as cotton in the U. S. South, or fallow land, such as the Conservation Reserve, said the RFA report.

If the feed value of ethanol co-products like distillers grains is counted, it reduces by one-third the amount of additional land needed for ethanol, said RFA.

U. S. ethanol production is forecast to increase 1.5 billion gallons to 10.5 billion gallons in 2009, and rising to 15 billion gallons a year by 2015 to comply with federal law.

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