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Ag Journal Online - La Junta, CO
  • Ethanol production is proven to be sustainable for Colorado, U.S.

  • Corn-based ethanol production has ensured BOTH environmental and financial sustainability for farmers in Colorado.
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  • I work on behalf of several thousand corn farmers in Colorado — most of them family operated, and most have existed for generations.
    They don't survive the passage of generations without environmental AND financial sustainability. One is just as important as the other.
    If farmers don't protect their land and water resources, they erode their own equity and lose key components necessary to maintain their businesses — and have nothing to offer the next generation.
    Corn-based ethanol production has ensured BOTH environmental and financial sustainability for farmers in Colorado.
    First, I will address the elephant in the room. Yes, financially, corn-based ethanol has helped corn farmers. But before ethanol, corn was valued around $2 a bushel. At that price, corn production was a slow path to equity depletion without assistance from the government just to stay solvent.
    Since the advent of ethanol, the value of corn has increased to a point that makes most government payments to farmers — $12 billion of federal support — virtually a thing of the past. And before you start thinking that the increase in corn price affects the price you pay at the grocery store, remember that less than a nickel of the American food dollar goes to corn farmers. And since only a tiny portion of corn product is present in only a portion of retail food items, the fraction of cost attributable is nearly undetectable. Fuel prices and retailer profits have a significantly higher impact on food costs than the price of corn.
    OK, so that leaves us with the environmental impacts of corn-based ethanol.
    Yes, there is less land in the Conservation Reserve Program. But that's not because of ethanol. It's due to Federal budget constraints and a decrease in the cap of CRP acres down to 32 million in 2010. However, even though acreage cannot go back to its 2007 high due to the cap, acreage in restored wetlands and other high-value practices is likely to increase, not decrease, according to USDA.
    Further, law prohibits the conversion of sensitive ecosystems to cropland, and the law requires that corn and other feedstock used to produce renewable fuels for the sake of the Renewable Fuel Standard may only be sourced from land that was actively engaged in agricultural production in 2007, the year of the bill's enactment.
    The EPA is required to annually evaluate whether the RFS is causing U.S. cropland to expand beyond the 2007 level of 402 million acres. Each and every year, not only has EPA found that cropland has been below the 2007 baseline, but the 2012 cropland total was at its lowest point since EPA began this annual analysis.
    Want an even clearer picture of what ethanol has done for the environment? Just look at Denver. Remember in the 1970s and 1980s when The Mile High City was frequently marred with a think ugly "brown cloud"? Fuel oxygenated with ethanol has been a big part of cleaning Denver's air.
    Page 2 of 2 - I hope, like ethanol, I have helped clear the air on some of the misinformation about ethanol. There are many other misconceptions in the recent article from the AP about ethanol. To see all of them, go to www.coloradocorn.com.
    Mark Sponsler is the executive director of the Colorado Corn Growers Association.

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