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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: INTEGRATION OF CLIMATE VARIABILITY AND FORECASTS INTO RISK-BASED MANAGEMENT TOOLS FOR AGRICULTURE PRODUCTION AND RESOURCE CONSERVATION Title: Answers and analysis needed to guide the use of biofuels as a renewable energy source

Author
item Steiner, Jean

Submitted to: Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: December 5, 2007
Publication Date: January 31, 2008
Citation: Steiner, J.L. 2008. Answers and analysis needed to guide the use of biofuels as a renewable energy source. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation Society. 63(1):7a.

Interpretive Summary: Discussions of biofuels and bio-based products are ubiquitous these days. The tone of the dialog ranges from support of grain-based ethanol as the near-term solution to agriculture’s and rural America’s problems, to thoughtful discussions of complex issues that must be addressed to realize the long-term potential for sustainable bio-based energy and products. This article raises questions need to be addressed. Who will realize the economic benefits? Will there be opportunities for jobs and value added to the agricultural producers and rural communities? Will the policies continue to encourage expanded production of major commodities, as seen in the 2007 crop reports, or new monocultures such as switchgrass; or will the policies encourage diversified agricultural systems to produce a diversity of bioenergy supplies? Will we account for the value of the natural resource base, or will impacts on soil, water, air, and biotic resources continue to be treated as external to the energy enterprise? Will we differentiate between rain-fed and irrigated feedstock when we are assessing the costs (social and environmental, as well as economic) of production? Establishment of certified production practices would allow voters, investors, or energy consumers to know what we are getting with alternative approaches. While early discussions focused on environmental drivers, particularly the need to mitigate rising carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, current discussion focuses much more on national security benefits of reducing dependence on imported petroleum. Both aspects are important, but we should not let the environmental goals be neglected as we move forward in the coming decade.

Technical Abstract: Discussions of biofuels and bio-based products are ubiquitous these days. The tone of the dialog ranges from support of grain-based ethanol as the near-term solution to agriculture’s and rural America’s problems, to thoughtful discussions of complex issues that must be addressed to realize the long-term potential for sustainable bio-based energy and products. This article raises questions need to be addressed. Who will realize the economic benefits? Will there be opportunities for jobs and value added to the agricultural producers and rural communities? Will the policies continue to encourage expanded production of major commodities, as seen in the 2007 crop reports, or new monocultures such as switchgrass; or will the policies encourage diversified agricultural systems to produce a diversity of bioenergy supplies? Will we account for the value of the natural resource base, or will impacts on soil, water, air, and biotic resources continue to be treated as external to the energy enterprise? Will we differentiate between rain-fed and irrigated feedstock when we are assessing the costs (social and environmental, as well as economic) of production? Establishment of certified production practices would allow voters, investors, or energy consumers to know what we are getting with alternative approaches. While early discussions focused on environmental drivers, particularly the need to mitigate rising carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, current discussion focuses much more on national security benefits of reducing dependence on imported petroleum. Both aspects are important, but we should not let the environmental goals be neglected as we move forward in the coming decade.

Last Modified: 10/21/2014
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