Corn Belt controversy

Report doesn’t sit well in Minnesota

MARSHALL – Associated Press reports on the effects of the corn-based ethanol industry released Tuesday and Wednesday quickly generated a storm of controversy.

A report by AP writer Steve Karnowski released on Tuesday cites a University of Minnesota-Crookston study claiming there has been a “massive transfer” of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) land into corn and soybean cultivation in the past two years because of a boom in crop prices driven by the ethanol industry.

On Wednesday, an AP report by Chet Brokaw goes into detail about the harm to soil and water quality caused by the loss of grassland to farming. Brokaw’s report attributes the loss to federal ethanol and crop insurance subsidies.

“CRP and set-aside land on the landscape helps to modify flows into the river system,” said Lucas Youngsma, area hydrologist for the Farm Service Agency (FSA). “They provide a buffer against increased flows into our river system and provide beneficial recharge into our aquifers.”

According to FSA, the amount of land in six categories of CRP in Lyon, Lincoln and Yellow Medicine counties has steadily declined for several years. From September 2008 to September 2012 – the last month figures are available for – acres in CRP have declined 24 percent in Lincoln County, 12 percent in Lyon County and 8 percent in Yellow Medicine County.

However, representatives of area corn growers and the ethanol industry are critical of the report, claiming significant data has been omitted.

“They’re cherry-picking to achieve an end and not including facts pertinent to the discussion,” said Doug Albin, director of the Minnesota Corn Research and Promotion Council. “Seven-dollar-a-bushel corn wasn’t due to ethanol. Ethanol was a contributing factor but certainly not the main cause.”

Albin cited international demand for corn as the primary driver of corn prices and criticized the AP report for claiming ethanol was responsible for shifting resources away from livestock production.

“Every bushel of corn, 56 pounds, used in ethanol production produces 17 pounds of dried distillers grain (for livestock feed),” Albin said. “Ethanol plants are removing starch portions the animals can’t use, leaving the protein for nutrition.”

Albin attributed much of the loss of CRP land to the housing market rather than agriculture.

“I have not taken land out of CRP,” Albin said. “And people have taken land out of CRP that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”