Farm Progress is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Serving: United States


Articles from 2011 In May

Corn 86% Planted; Over Half of Soybeans in the Ground

Corn 86% Planted; Over Half of Soybeans in the Ground


Today’s USDA Crop Progress Report showed nice numbers for most states in regard to planted and emerged corn and soybean acreage. Corn planting is 86% complete, compared to a five-year average of 95%. The soybean crop is 51% planted, 20 points behind the 71% five-year average.

Corn is over 80% planted in two-thirds of the major corn-planting states. Those states furthest behind are Pennsylvania (61% complete) and Ohio, where only 19% of the crop has been planted compared to a five-year average of 93%.

The corn crop continues to emerge in all states and has popped up in all corn-producing states. The Iowa crop is 90% emerged, Missouri corn is 86% out of the ground and North Carolina has 96% of their corn crop now out of the soil. Ohio lags behind the furthest at only 9% emerged, and North Dakota’s corn crop is 30% emerged.

The corn crop condition is 63% good/excellent. Last year’s condition at this time was 76% good/excellent. Only 6% of the crop is rated very poor/poor.

Soybean planting has continued to progress. Wisconsin made good progress in the last week going from 25% planted to 50%. Minnesota is more than half planted at 53%, compared to last week’s 38%. Louisiana and Mississippi continue to lead the soybean-planting pack with 90% and 89% of the crop planted, respectively.

Of the soybeans that are planted, about 27% of the crop has emerged. Last week saw no beans above ground in North Dakota or Wisconsin, but both states now have beans emerging at 1% and 12%, respectively. Soybeans in Iowa and Nebraska made the biggest leaps in emergence in the last week. Iowa jumped from 21% emerged to 52% this week. Nebraska soybeans were 20% emerged last week and now 43% of the crop is popping out of the ground. Overall soybean emergence is 27%, compared to a five-year average of 39%.

Flooding and Waterlogging Will Affect Crop Development


Excessive rainfall this spring, following an unusually wet winter, has resulted in extensive flooding in many regions of North Dakota. Even soils that are not visibly flooded quickly become saturated after a rain because there is little evapotranspiration occurring as a result of the low temperatures and lack of an established crop.

Waterlogging (flooded/ponded/saturated soils) affects a number of biological and chemical processes in plants and soils that can affect crop growth in the short and long term.

"The primary cause of waterlogging in crop plants is oxygen deprivation or anoxia because excess water does not react chemically with the plant," says Joel Ransom, North Dakota State University Extension Serviceagronomist. "Plants need oxygen for cell division, growth, and the uptake and transportation of nutrients. Since oxygen diffuses through undisturbed water much more slowly than well-drained soil, oxygen requirements rapidly exceed that which is available when soils are saturated."

The rate of oxygen depletion in saturated soil is affected by the temperature and rate of biological activity in the soil. Faster oxygen depletion occurs when temperatures are higher and when soils are actively metabolizing organic matter.

Cooler weather will delay the adverse effects of waterlogging on emerged crops. Generally, the oxygen level in a saturated soil reaches the point that is harmful to plant growth after about 48-96 hours. In an effort to survive, tissues growing under reduced oxygen levels use alternative metabolic pathways that produce byproducts. Some of the byproducts are toxic at elevated levels.

"Germinating seeds or emerging seedlings are very sensitive to waterlogging because their level of metabolism is high," Ransom says. "Crops, such as small grains and corn, tend to be more sensitive to waterlogging when their growing point is below the surface of the soil (before the five to six leaf stage)."

With the exception of winter wheat, all of the small-grain and corn crops in the state still are in these sensitive stages (if planted at all) and can be killed if soils are saturated beyond 48 hours and the soil temperature exceeds 65° F.

Crops can differ in their tolerance to waterlogging. Data from differing sources suggest a possible ranking of waterlogging tolerance. The most tolerant to most susceptible are rice, soybeans, oats, wheat, corn, barley, canola, peas, dry beans and lentils. Growth stage and variety can affect this ranking.

"Waterlogged conditions also reduce root growth and can predispose the plant to root rots, so the ultimate effect of excess moisture may not be known until late in the season," Ransom says. "It is common to observe plants that have experienced waterlogging to be especially sensitive to hot temperatures and to display nitrogen (N) and phosphorus deficiencies later in the season due to restricted root development. Yield losses can occur even if these obvious visible symptoms are not observed."

Waterlogging can impact cereal plant growth indirectly by affecting the availability of N in the soil. Excessive water can leach nitrate N beyond the rooting zone of the developing plant, particularly in well-drained, lighter-textured soils.

In heavier soils, nitrate N can be lost through denitrification. The amount of loss depends on the amount of nitrate in the soil, soil temperature and the length of time the soil is saturated.

"Research conducted in other states found losses from denitrification between 1% and 5% for each day that the soil remains saturated," Ransom says.

How Much Nitrogen Is Being Lost In Flooded, Saturated Soils?

How Much Nitrogen Is Being Lost In Flooded, Saturated Soils?


With all of the flooded soils and wet fields there likely are questions on denitrification and whether side-dress nitrogen (N) should be applied. The fact is it can be difficult to predict the amount of N lost. However, two things should be considered when dealing with denitrification:

  1. Denitrification only occurs when N is in the nitrate form. For fall-applied N as long as application occurred after the soils cooled down to appropriate levels then the risk of N loss over the winter and in early spring should be low, especially since soil temperatures have been fairly low for most of the spring.
  2. Denitrification is due to microbial processes. Therefore, as soil temperatures decrease microbial activity decreases and the risk for denitrification decreases.

At this time of the season there is always going to be some risk for N loss, but as temperatures remain relatively cool we should have a smaller risk for denitrification than if temperatures were warmer. The amount of N lost can be a small percentage to nearly the entire amount of N applied. Should we be worried about the worst-case scenario at this time? Maybe not and the best thing to do is to wait and see what type of visual symptoms cornis showing around V4 or V5. The University of Minnesota developed a Supplemental Nitrogen Worksheet for Cornto aid producers in determining whether supplemental N should be applied to fields with all N applied either in fall or spring.

Fields that should be scouted first are those that had N applied the earliest in the fall, especially if soil temperatures had not fully stabilized below 50° F by the time of N application. Also, keep an eye on fields where N may have been applied where soils were wet enough to lead to less than optimal incorporation.

Side-dressing N is a viable option if it is determined that some N loss has occurred. Generally, the earlier N can be applied when side-dressing, the better. Although N uptake occurs throughout the growing season, peak demand generally starts at the V5 growth stage and progresses to tasselling, at which time about 60% of the total N is taken up by.

There is no exact recommendation for the amount of supplemental N to apply after crop emergence. Use sound judgment in making rate decisions. The supplemental N worksheet suggests a range of 40-70 lbs. N/acre if corn meets certain criteria. According to Gyles Randall, a supplement of 30-40 lbs. N/acre is sufficient for corn following soybeanon most soils or where corn follows corn on silt loams or sands. However, higher rates (60-70 lbs. N/acre) may be needed for corn following corn on heavy soils.

About any source of N can be used to side-dress, even dry sources such as urea. Remember that there is some potential for N loss from surfaced applied urea or UAN solutions; therefore, UAN application before a rain event can help incorporate the urea to lessen the risk. In addition, inhibitors such as Agrotain for dry urea sources may be beneficial to lessen the risk of N loss. Coulter injection or incorporation is always preferable.

Remember that nitrate is mobile and therefore moves with water in the soil. Even with poor root development, nitrate can get to the roots. With side-dress applications, it is generally best to apply early so that the N is applied before the crop gets too tall and that the N has time to move to the root zone. If our pattern of weather does not change and the window to side-dress is short, get to fields that had greatest risk of N loss first.  For other mobile nutrients such as sulfur there is a risk for movement but if sulfur was applied pre-plant or with the planter there is no reason to apply sulfur in a side-dress application. 

Weeds swamp rice after late start

What a spring! For the longest my phone was the quietest for this time of the year that I can ever remember. Then university counterparts and other consultants began to say the same thing and ask if I knew, “what was wrong?”

We finally just concluded that because of wind, rain, floods and such, folks had either not been able to do enough to call or they were just disgusted and did not want to talk to anyone. Well that has all changed, the phone is ringing off the wall.

Rice calls are running the gamut from one extreme to the other. The “jailbreaks” are occurring in some fields.

I am recommending a lot of Regiment, a lot of Ricestar Ht plus Facet or Broadhead, HT plus Facet or a generic plus Permit or Halomax, and in Clearfield rice a lot of Beyond (and mixtures) in place of the second Newpath application.

The calls on aquatics where rice has been under water or seeded into backwater have not started yet but they will come.

Excessive wet or flooded conditions mean more aquatics and more sprangletop. The earlier you can get on the aquatics in conventional rice with mixtures like RiceBeaux or propanil with Londax, the easier it is to control. Regiment also has a place and Grasp comes to the front on larger ducksalad.

In Clearfield rice you can clean up some aquatic messes with Newpath and Londax. In the real fights, Beyond plus Grasp is outstanding.

The best sprangletop herbicides in conventional rice preflood are Command, Ricestar HT and Clincher.

In Clearfield rice Beyond has better postemergence activity on sprangletop compared to Newpath but often needs some help.

On the opposite end of the spectrum have been the calls saying, “Doc, I am scared but I have fields of three-leaf rice that I can not find any grass in — and I don’t have anything out on them.” I have walked some of those and they sure do make you second guess yourself.

Bobby Huey, mentor, former rice specialist, current landowner, and farmer and I walked some of his. He was bragging on his recent eye surgery and how he could see a fly on a cow across the pasture. We couldn’t find any grass. He called a week later wondering about his eye surgery because he still couldn’t find any grass!

A lot of weeds woke up late this year. On all of those clean field calls I have jumped up and down for the grower to get some more residual out ahead of a rain or flush. Killing them before you see them is much better than trying to kill them after you can see them.

On a lot of fresh-cut fields this spring where growers have been scared to use any residual herbicides I have suggested some real low rates of Facet and Command (like 0.25 plus 4 ounces) down preemergence and then repeat those as the rice grows. They have worked great.

Some are bound to say, “Uh-oh. He is recommending reduced rates again; what is our next resistant weed going to be?” In most fields we will wind up with labeled rates out there. It will just take a while.

I have been dinged a few times by some saying our reduced rate programs in Arkansas caused all of the resistant weed problems. There is a side to the argument that reduced rates may not be good and I am a big boy. However, it is interesting that most resistant weeds have first been discovered and documented outside Arkansas.

I get lots of calls about residual control of indigo or jointvetch. More growers wish to get away from a midseason herbicide treatment and that is understandable. Residual control of indigo can be hit or miss. However, my experience has been that Facet or quinclorac at higher rates and also Permit or Halomax at an ounce rate applied just prior to flooding can sometimes provide good residual control. Where possible, I recommend mixing the Facet or quinclorac with the Permit or Halomax.

Getting to the bottom of blueberry splitting

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) researchers and a university colleague have found several factors involved in blueberry splitting, a significant problem that can cause losses of $300 to $500 per acre.

Splitting and cracking occur in southern highbush and rabbiteye blueberries if they receive preharvest rainfall when fully ripe or approaching ripeness, according to scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS). ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency.

ARS horticulturist Donna Marshall, retired horticulturist James Spiers and geneticist Stephen Stringer at the ARS Thad Cochran Southern Horticultural Laboratory in Poplarville, Miss., and University of Southern Mississippi associate professor Kenneth Curry collaborated on the research studies published in HortScience.

In the first study, published in 2007, the researchers developed a laboratory method to model rain-related splitting in blueberries. Many blueberry breeders throughout the country are using this method to more vigorously screen cultivars and selections for splitting susceptibility. The results from field and laboratory tests showed that the rabbiteye cultivar "Premier" has the lowest incidence of splitting, while widely grown cultivar "Tifblue" exhibited a high incidence of splitting.

Marshall and her colleagues also investigated the correlation between splitting susceptibility and fruit firmness. Laboratory and field tests proved that, in general, firmer fruit has a higher tendency to split. But one selection, named "MS614," exhibited extreme firmness and splitting resistance. The results, published in 2008, suggest that breeders who select for firmness may inadvertently also be selecting for splitting. But the laboratory screening method Marshall and colleagues created has helped remedy this problem.

The most recent study, published in 2009, evaluated water-uptake thresholds in split-resistant "Premier" and split-susceptible "Tifblue" fruit at all stages of development. The researchers harvested and weighed the fruit, then soaked it in distilled water at room temperature for 24 hours. They found that "Premier" absorbs more water than "Tifblue," yet remains intact and experiences minimal splitting. According to Marshall, the studies show that splitting is a cultivar-specific problem.

Read more about this and other blueberry research in the May/June 2011 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

LSU AgCenter field day features soil fertility, compaction

Drought conditions around the state were on the minds of most participants at the May 18 pasture renovation field day at the LSU AgCenter Southeast Research Station.

The consensus among participants was that they all need rain, and they need the water to stay on their land and not run off too quickly.

“We’ve had lots of complaints from farmers – and even observed here at the station –that the soil is more compacted. And when we do get rain, it runs off real rapidly,” said Mike McCormick, resident coordinator at the station.

Compaction is a problem not only for dairy farmers but also for beef and horse producers as well, McCormick said. Where there is animal traffic, there is a problem with soil compaction and the absorption of water.

“We just felt we needed to address this problem that many of us have let slide for the past few years so that we could get the maximum value of these high-priced fertilizers,” McCormick said.

The rains always come and Jay Stevens, LSU AgCenter soils specialist, advised farmers how they should prepare their pastures.Aeration and renovation were two practices he suggested as possible solutions to the compaction problem.

“To get rid of compacted areas you really have to get below it, lift it up and shatter it,” Stevens said. “When I think about renovation, I’m thinking about ripping it, tilling it, disking it, fertilizing it, liming it and replanting it.

“When the discussion is about aeration, you are more or less talking about using something that disturbs the soil enough so you can get some moisture down into that soil and have some ability to break up that hoofpan.”

In order to test compaction in the soil, Stevens recommends using a soil compaction meter that shows how deep the plant roots are able to grow.

Soil compaction characteristics before and after renovation at the research station was discussed by Ronnie Bardwell, LSU AgCenter dairy specialist.

Vinicius Moreira, LSU AgCenter nutrient management specialist, addressed whole-farm nutrient management.“When we talk about nutrient management, we are more or less looking for ways to minimize inputs, such as fertilizer, and maximize outputs, which is where you make your money.”

Moreira also discussed calcium and phosphorus utilization, bone mobilization and protein needs of dairy cattle.

At this time of year, farmers have summer grasses on their mind, but the soil situation is a determining factor in how well that grass grows. 

“Most of the state is definitely in a drought situation and people are wondering whether they should apply fertilizer because most of our grasses depend pretty heavily on nitrogen fertilizers,” said Ed Twidwell, LSU AgCenter forage specialist.

The combination of drought and compacted soils is putting producers in a stressful situation.

“We’re telling people to hold off on putting out fertilizer until they are more confident that rain is coming,” Twidwell said. “We are at a critical time with our summer forages, like our Bermuda and Bahia grass.”

Farmers are transitioning now from winter to summer forages and they really need some rainfall and fertilization to jumpstart those grasses and get them growing, Twidwell said. But they are really in a holding pattern right now.

So farmers are facing a double headache. They need to deal with compaction, but if they don’t get rain soon, their window for planting will be past. 

Corn gluten as an organic fertilizer is being looked at as an alternative to traditional fertilizers, according to Kun-Jun Han, LSU AgCenter agronomist, who is doing a research project that will conclude next year.

“It’s still too early to tell how it compares to poultry litter, but we know it can be an alternative organic fertilizer,” Han said. “It has some possibilities, but we must continue our test for two years before we will have clear conclusions.”  

Algae-based biofuels a billion dollar market opportunity

Among next generation renewable fuel alternatives, algae stands out as one of the most promising and scalable options with the potential to supply key fuel and co-product markets. Strong demand from aviation and military consumers, technological breakthroughs in the production, cultivation, and extraction of algae oil, and the development of large-scale projects will be critical to widespread growth in the algae-based biofuels market.

“Scale-up of algae-based biofuels will depend on the realization of value in non-fuel end-markets. As key capital and operating cost hurdles are overcome, algae-based biofuel production should expand rapidly.”

According to a recent report from Pike Research, despite limited production to date, the scale-up potential of algae is substantial compared to other non-food based feedstocks. Although regulatory and policy uncertainty as well as competition from co-product markets will inhibit algae-based biofuels production initially, the cleantech market intelligence firm projects that the value of renewable fuels derived from algae will reach $1.3 billion by 2020.

“Due to the high costs associated with producing crude algae oil for the aviation, ground transportation, and other fuel end-markets, most industry ventures have pivoted away from a fuels-first approach to focus on the development of revenue streams from high-value, low-volume co-product markets,” says industry analyst Mackinnon Lawrence. “Scale-up of algae-based biofuels will depend on the realization of value in non-fuel end-markets. As key capital and operating cost hurdles are overcome, algae-based biofuel production should expand rapidly.”

Lawrence adds that the use of algae to produce crude oil for renewable fuel production can deliver a number of environmental benefits compared to other advanced biofuel feedstocks. Algae can be grown on non-arable land, co-located with stationary CO2 emissions sources, and utilize a wide variety of water resources including wastewater and seawater. A number of algae ventures are making important headway with different strategies for maximizing yields while capitalizing on innovative pathways to mitigate the externalities associated with fuel and chemical production.

Pike Research’s analysis indicates that the algae-based biofuels market will be dominated by microalgae, which lends itself to rapid growth and genetic modification. Macroalgae will continue to generate interest in countries with large coastal regions, but investment in harvesting and conversion technologies is projected to lag behind microalgae R&D investments. North America and Asia Pacific are projected to account for 82 percent of algae-based biofuels production in 2020, representing at least 50 million gallons of algae-based biofuels per year.

Pike Research’s study, “Algae-Based Biofuels”, examines the key growth drivers behind the algae-based biofuels market and outlines unresolved supply challenges. It compares advantages and disadvantages of algae production pathways, leading cultivation technologies, and end-market opportunities. The report includes detailed 10-year market forecasts, segmented by world region, along with analysis of market conditions in key countries and profiles of key industry players that are shaping the emerging algae biofuels business. An Executive Summary of the report is available for free download on the firm’s website.

Growing calves a marathon for dairy farmers

Watching family and friends participate in the Fargo marathon, I eventually was reminded of how raising calves may be like a marathon as our weather changes to summer conditions.

Saturday seemed like an ideal day, especially for us spectators. We were anticipating being cold and wet with the pending weather report, but it was not that way at all. Rather, the cloudy skies tempered the effect of the sun, yet held their precipitation. We dodged the bullet. This is great; just a little humid. Or was it?

As the runners of the various races entered the final leg, what was becoming painfully obvious was that the conditions weren’t so great for them. With the humid air and temperate temperatures, the environment was stressful. In fact, the conditions were so stressful that, at one point, all the stations in the hospital area were full with disoriented, dehydrated, vomiting runners. Heat and humidity were not so great after all.

So what does this have to do with calves? Warm weather changes calf management. Born healthy and on their way, we sometimes forget that even though calves have little to do that would cause exhaustion, they may be as vulnerable as a marathon runner when out in the elements.

Heat stress can be a problem for calves because they dissipate heat by panting, which causes them to lose valuable hydration. We need to manage calves to reduce overheating and, at the same time, improve water management. Here are some summertime tips from the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association gold standards on housing environment for calves:

  • Housing is critical. Use shade cloths over rows of calf hutches and prop up the back end of the hutch to facilitate air movement for calves housed indoors. Open windows, lower side curtains and consider fans.
  • Remove bedding more frequently. Bedding retains heat if excessively soiled with urine and manure.
  • Water management is crucial. Make sure water buckets are large enough so they don't run dry during a 24-hour period. Locate buckets so calves can't spill starter grain into them. Don't expose buckets to direct sunlight because sunlight overheats water and encourages algae growth.
  • Sanitation is vital. Dump water buckets daily to maintain freshness. Wipe buckets with a diluted chlorinated solution at least once a week to reduce algae growth.
  • Don't use the same bucket for milk and water. Milk remaining in the bucket allows bacteria to grow and may encourage organisms responsible for abomasal bloat or other diseases.
  • Consider more liberal use of electrolyte solutions. In warm weather, calves are more prone to dehydration. Scouring calves should receive oral electrolyte solutions liberally, particularly during midday. Administer electrolytes by bottle early in the course of diarrhea because solution absorption likely will be better than if it’s given by a tube.
  • Keep calf starter fresh. Add as much as the calves will eat each day, and feed refused starter grain to older heifers.

The future of the herd resides in the genetics and management put forth in your dairy heifers. Don’t just be a spectator. Actively plan for their well-being, and check on them often to avoid having to triage a bunch of heat-exhausted calves.

Switch from corn to soybeans? Not so fast!

St. Paul, MN, 5/31/2011 — With a wet spring and delayed planting, many farmers are thinking of switching from corn to soybean due to potential yield losses in corn as planting is delayed. Farmers should consider potential net revenue along with potential yield loss before making this decision.

Supply and demand drive this analysis. Much of the U.S. Corn Belt is suffering from poor planting conditions this year, so total corn production will likely decline. Markets will react by pushing corn prices up. If more farmers switch to soybeans, total soybean production may increase, pushing soybean prices down.

University of Minnesota Extension has studied last year's costs of production from the Center for Farm Financial Management's FINBIN database of Minnesota farmers' actual expenses, their three-year average yields, projected harvest prices and estimated government payments. Based on this data, we forecast estimated net revenue of $443 per acre for corn and $195 for soybean. These estimates indicate a tremendous advantage for corn over soybean and the need for a large decrease in corn yield before soybean is more profitable than corn. To view data tables for this information as well as data related to the examples below, read a more detailed version of this column at

Suppose a farmer was able to plant corn and soybean in a timely manner and did not suffer a yield loss. Suppose also that many farmers across the Corn Belt switched to soybean and markets pushed the corn price up by 5 percent and the soybean price down by 5 percent. The estimates show an increase in net revenue for corn to $496 per acre for this farmer and a decrease for soybean to $168 per acre.

In another scenario, a farmer had corn planting delayed and suffered a 10-percent yield loss for corn but no yield loss for soybean. Again, suppose many farmers switched to soybean so prices increased 5 percent for corn and decreased 5 percent for soybean. In this situation, corn still has higher net revenue ($385 per acre) than soybean ($168 per acre).

In one last scenario, suppose a farmer has to plant corn very late and suffers a 25-percent decrease in corn yield, but the soybean yield does not change and forecast prices do not change. In this situation, the estimated net revenue for corn ($181 per acre) drops slightly below the estimated net revenue for soybean ($195 per acre). This situation with no price changes is unlikely to happen this year since planting is being delayed across most of the Corn Belt and prices of both corn and soybean are being affected.

Farmers may be well served to keep their cropping plan unchanged for a little longer, even though corn yields may be lower. When planting occurs between May 25 and May 30, growers should consider hybrids that are five to seven days earlier in relative maturity when compared to full-season hybrids. When planting is delayed until June 1 to June 10, consider hybrids that are eight to 15 days earlier. The latest recommended planting dates for corn grain are around June 5 in central and northern Minnesota, and June 15 in southern Minnesota.

Farmers, lenders and others can estimate net revenue to analyze their own situations under different price and yield conditions. A management tool (in Microsoft Excel) developed by Extension economist Bill Lazarus is available at

Counterclaims to Oxfam’s assertions on biofuels, food prices

A new report from Oxfam rightfully raises concerns about the potential effects of unmitigated commodity speculation, escalating oil prices, underinvestment in agriculture technology, and climate change on future world food supplies. But the report misses the mark when it makes unsupported claims about the effect of biofuels on global food supplies. Global biofuel production is a means to enhancing global food security and tackling problems of climate change.

According to an UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report released just last week, “…investment in bioenergy could spark much-needed investment in agricultural and transport infrastructure in rural areas and, by creating jobs and boosting household incomes, could alleviate poverty and food security.”

“American ethanol production has helped spur needed investment and research into dramatic advances in farming technology that have allowed U.S. farmers to double their production on the same amount of land from a generation ago,” said Renewable Fuels Association President and CEO Bob Dinneen. “The same opportunities at varying scales are available to farm communities in developing nations. Together with improved farming technologies, local biofuel production can provide developing rural economies with the kind of economic prosperity needed to become more food secure.”

Global hunger issues have long existed, fueled in no small measure by inept and too often corrupt food aid programs, rampant food waste, commodity speculation and volatile energy prices. A recent FAO report noted that 1/3 of all food produced for human consumption is wasted – either thrown out or left to waste in fields or in storage. The World Bank and the British government concluded that speculation, not biofuels, were main drivers in food prices increases in 2007-2008.

Additionally, Oxfam notes in their new report, “Only 40 cents of every US taxpayer dollar spent on food aid actually goes to buying food,” with the remainder spent on securing transportation – a highly energy-intensive endeavor. Oxfam further notes that, “The dependency of the food system on oil for transport and fertilizers is a key factor in both, as oil prices are expected to rise in the long term and to become increasingly volatile.”


Troublingly, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have chosen to scapegoat American ethanol production as a driver in perceived food shortages and price increases rather than tackle the true challenges to feeding a growing global population. A study entitled “Battles over Biofuels in Europe: NGOs and the Politics of Markets” and published in the journal Sociological Research Online on Aug. 31, 2010 found that much of this biofuel angst was driven by perceived political vulnerability in biofuel policy, not underlying data supporting anti-biofuel rhetoric.

For example, the US uses just 3 percent of the world’s grain on a net basis (U.S. producers do not use food grains like wheat and rice) to produce more than 13 billion gallons of ethanol and nearly 40 million metric tons of livestock feed. In the U.S. specifically, ethanol production utilizes 25 percent of the nation’s net corn crop, not the 40 percent frequently trumpeted by biofuel opponents.

“Meeting growing global demand for food, feed, and energy necessarily requires addressing a number of key issues simultaneously,” said Dinneen. “Narrowing the focus to isolate one aspect, such as biofuel production, without addressing the dangers posed by a growing dependence on petroleum, will continue to have us chasing our tail. The continually evolving biofuels industry is one tool that should be used to improve rural economies, increase on-farm productivity, and provide impoverished nation’s a means to become more food and energy self-sufficient.”