When I talk about farming and food with my friends and family, I try my best to provide the most correct information that I can from current, valid sources. I don’t lie, and I try not to make assumptions. It doesn’t do anyone a bit of good. For instance, have you heard that the harvestman (Daddy-long-legs) is the most poisonous spider in the world? This is one of the most perpetuated myths of all time, origin unknown. Who knows how many of these innocent little creatures have been killed because people believe what they have been told. Unfortunately, ethanol has become the modern-day harvestman.
The Associated Press (AP) today released a story about the “dirty” side of ethanol, claiming it is encouraging farmers to plow up sensitive ecosystems, polluting our waters, and causing more greenhouse gas emissions than it saves. Here are a number of reasons we say their statements are false:
AP claim: “Five million acres of land set aside for conservation…have vanished on Obama’s watch. Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.”
First, farmers are not filling in wetlands. Acreage enrolled in USDA’s Wetlands Reserve Program hit a record 2.65 million acres in 2012. That land is enrolled permanently, or for a period of 30 years. Farmers can’t just wake up one day and decide to fill it in.
Second, acres in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program have declined, but a big reason for the decline is because the cap on CRP acres fell from 39 to 32 million acres as a result of the 2008 farm bill. CRP lands were always intended to remain available to be farmed if market conditions warranted. It is perfectly reasonable to grow crops on good farmland, and save the more highly erodible land and fields near waterways for CRP enrollment.
Third, those “pristine prairies” remain pristine. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, no new grassland has been converted to cropland since 2005. Most native grasslands are also protected under “sodbuster” and “swampbuster” provisions of the farm bill.
Finally, farmers participate in a variety of conservation efforts, such as enrolling acres in the Conservation Stewardship Program, developing mandatory agricultural water quality plans, and adjusting farming practices to conserve soil, energy and nutrients.