Agriculture

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A village women's cooperative farms rice using the System of Rice Intensification to increase crop yields in Madagascar.

Increases in production of crops and biomass for bioenergy uses may have impacts on other agricultural activities.

Contents

Crops

  • United States - Increased production of corn for ethanol may lead to changes in the amount of land used for other crops, such as for soybeans, which may experience reduced production.
  • Brazil - increased production of sugar cane for ethanol may lead indirectly to the conversion of tropical forests or other lands to accomodate the agricultural activities displaced by growing land areas used for sugar cane production.

Meat: livestock and poultry

Increased demand for bioenergy crops, such as corn for use in producing ethanol, evidently may lead to increases in the cost of inputs for livestock agriculture, in turn affecting the cost of meat and dairy products.

Animal fats can be used as feedstocks for biodiesel.
  • In the United States, the Coalition for Balanced Food and Fuel, "an alliance of agricultural groups" (including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council and National Milk Producers Federation) "concerned about the impact that ethanol policy may have on the competitiveness of animal agriculture, exports, the food industry and ultimately the consumer," advocates a number of policies, including that federal mandates "should be limited to energy from emerging bio-based sources (i.e. cellulosic, methane) that do not adversely impact animal feed availability;" the expiration in 2008 of the US ethanol import tariff, and for expanded options for farmers to elect out of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).[1]


Other issues

Chart from the 2007a IPCC climate change assessment report shows the contribution by sector to total anthropogenic GHG emissions in 2004, in terms of CO2 equivalent. Heat trapping GHGs result in global temperature changes that effect our climate systems. Agriculture accounts for 13.5% of total annual GHG emissions. Source (PDF File)
"Rising energy prices are leading to the large-scale cultivation of plants for bio-fuels. In addition to the problems of rising food prices, the increasing demand for bio-fuels will stimulate an expansion of energy-crop plantations at the cost of areas covered by natural vegetation. We call attention to the danger of direct negative impacts on wetlands by land reclamation and drainage, and to the indirect impacts caused increased inputs of sediments, fertilizers, and pesticides from surrounding croplands."[4]

Resources

  • Measuring the Indirect Land-Use Change Associated With Increased Biofuel Feedstock Production (PDF) by USDA Economic Research Service and the Office of the Chief Economist, February 2011. "This report summarizes the current state of knowledge of the drivers of land-use change and describes the analytic methods used to estimate the impact of biofuel feedstock production on land use.The larger the impact of domestic biofuels feedstock production on commodity prices and the availability of exports, the larger the international land-use effects are likely to be. The amount of pressure placed on land internationally will depend in part on how much of the land needed for biofuel production is met through an expansion of agricultural land in the United States."
  • Biofuels, land access and rural livelihoods in Mozambique Isilda Nhantumbo and Alda Salomão, June 2010. "This report explores the early impacts of the biofuels boom on access to land and on local livelihoods in Mozambique. It draws on fieldwork on biofuel projects representing different business models for agricultural production."
  • Finding Balance: Agricultural Residues, Ethanol, and the Environment by Liz Marshall and Zachary Sugg for the World Resources Institute, December 2008.
    • "This analysis explores the implications of corn stover harvest for soil carbon loss, nutrient (nitrogen) pollution, and erosion, as well as the potential to mitigate those impacts using available agricultural best management practices (BMPs) such as reduced tillage intensity and integration of winter cover crops (WCC) into production rotations."
Sunflowers may be cultivated as a source of bioenergy.

Events

2012

2011

2010

2009

News

  • Coconut and mango waste could help power Asia 22 March 2012 by Syful Islam for SciDev.Net: "[DHAKA] Researchers in the United States say agricultural waste from coconut and mango farming could generate significant amounts of off-grid electricity for rural communities in South and South-East Asia."
  • "Many food crops have a tough, inedible part which cannot be used to feed livestock or fertilise fields. Examples of this material — known as ['endocarp'] — include coconut, almond and pistachio shells, and the stones of mangoes, olives, plums, apricots and cherries... Endocarp is high in a chemical compound known as lignin. High-lignin products can be heated to produce an energy-rich gas that can be used to generate electricity."
  • The researchers identified high-endocarp-producing regions of the world – and noted that coconut and mango agriculture account for 72 per cent of total global endocarp production. Coconut production alone accounted for 55 per cent... Most coconut endocarp comes from South and South-East Asian countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • They then overlaid these findings with energy consumption data to identify communities with little access to electricity, who could benefit from endocarp-based energy.
  • [Tom] Shearin [co-author and a systems analyst at University of Kentucky] said endocarp was preferable to crop-based biofuels as it had no value as a food item. "Its exploitation as energy source does not compete with food production," he said. [6]
  • Scheme for Mitigating Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Risks in the Use of Biofuels Proposed, 14 October 2011 by ISAAA.org: "The risk associated with 'Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Risk' in the production and use of biofuels has been a contentious issue in the assessment of biofuels sustainability."
    • "The European Energy Review website mentions a report published by Ernstand Young, (and commissioned by a consortium of industry/NGO partners) which aimed to: (1) establish the facts surrounding the issue of ILUC by examining existing literature, and (2) investigate 'issues concerning implementation of practical ILUC mitigation measures and their effectiveness in biofuels production'."
    • "The report indicated that 'indirect land use change (ILUC) risks can be mitigated by incentives that encourage existing and additional sustainable practices in biofuels production, as well as other sectors that use agricultural commodities'."
    • "The proposal involves the application of an 'ILUC mitigation credit scheme', which could work alongside with, and remain subject to the existing polices of the EU Renewable Energy Directive."[7]
  • U.S. DOE releases Billion-Ton Study follow-up report, 9 August 2011 by Biomass Power and Thermal: "A follow-up report to the U.S. DOE’s 2005 'Biomass as Feedstock for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry: The Technical Feasibility of a Billion-Ton Annual Supply,' commonly referred to as the Billion-Ton Study, has found consistency with the original in terms of magnitude of resource potential under the same assumptions."
    • "But the follow up, 'U.S. Billion-Ton Update: Biomass Supply for a Bioenergy and Bioproducts Industry,' finds differences in specific feedstock availability and includes a number of elements the Billion-Ton Study did not."
    • "The initial Billion-Ton Study sought to determine whether the land resources in the United States are capable of producing a sustainable supply of biomass to displace 30 percent or more of the country’s petroleum consumption by 2030. The goal would require 1 billion tons annually, the report found, and concluded that the nation could produce 1.3 billion tons per year, about 1 billion from agricultural biomass and 368 million tons from forestlands."
    • "The forest residue potential in the updated report is determined to be somewhat less than in the original, as measured by the unused resources and by properly accounting for pulpwood and sawlog markets that provide the demand and the residue, the report states. The crop residue potential is also determined to be less because of the update’s consideration of soil carbon in crop residue removal, as well as the omission of any residue produced on land that is conventionally tilled."[8]
  • Advanced biofuels lag far behind mandates, 19 April 2011 by DesMoinesRegister.com: "Advanced biofuels are developing far slower than Congress imagined when it imposed mandates on refiners to use them, and there’s little sign the production is going to catch up with the targets."
    • "The government expects just 170 million gallons of fuel to be made from crop residue and other sources of plant cellulose by 2014, which is far short of the 1.75 billion gallons that a 2007 law requires refiners to use that year, said Paul Bryan, who manages the Energy Department’s biomass program."
    • "The Environmental Protection Agency already has slashed the mandates for biomass fuels last year and this year because very little is being produced."
    • "He said the next generation of fuels can’t be just new forms of ethanol either because ethanol will displace so much gasoline that it will create economic problems for refineries that are needed to produce diesel, jet fuel and petrochemicals."[9]
  • Bioenergy crops could lower surface temperatures, 11 March 2011 by R&D Magazine: "Converting large swaths of farmland to perennial grasses for biofuels could lower regional surface temperatures, according to a recent Stanford [University] study."
    • "'We've shown that planting perennial bioenergy crops can lower surface temperatures by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit locally, averaged over the entire growing season,' said study co-author David Lobell, assistant professor of environmental Earth system science and a center fellow at Stanford's Program on Food Security and the Environment."
    • "In the study, Lobell and his colleagues used a computer simulation to forecast the climatic effects of converting farmland in the Midwest from annual crops—like corn and soybeans—to perennial grasses. The results showed that large-scale perennial cultivation in the 12-state area would pump significantly more water from the soil to the atmosphere, producing enough water vapor to cool the local surface temperature by 1.8 F."[10]
  • How biofuels contribute to the food crisis, 11 February 2011 by The Washington Post: "Nearly all assessments of the 2008 food crisis assigned biofuels a meaningful role, but much of academia and the media ultimately agreed that the scale of the crisis resulted from a "perfect storm" of causes. Yet this "perfect storm" has re-formed not three years later."
    • "Demand for biofuels is almost doubling the challenge of producing more food. Since 2004, for every additional ton of grain needed to feed a growing world population, rising government requirements for ethanol from grain have demanded a matching ton."
    • "Agricultural production is keeping up in general with the growing demand for food - but it keeps up with the added demand for biofuels only if growing weather is good."
    • "Economic studies imply that food prices should come down if we can just limit biofuel growth."[12]
  • Analyzing long-term impacts of biofuel on the land, 3 February 2011 by ScienceBlog: "While a useful biofuel source, crop residues also play a crucial role in maintaining soil organic carbon stock."
    • "This stock of organic carbon preserves soil functions and our global environment as well ensures the sustainable long-term production of biofuel feedstock."
    • "Using a process-based carbon balance model, researchers simulated experiments lasting from 79 to 134 years to predict the potential of no tillage management to maintain soil organic carbon."
    • "'Harvesting substantial amounts of crop residue under current cropping systems without exogenous carbon (e.g., manure) addition would deplete soil organic carbon, exacerbate risks of soil erosion, increase non-point source pollution, degrade soil, reduce crop yields per unit input of fertilizer and water, and decrease agricultural sustainability,' says Hero Gollany, the author of the study."[13]
  • Biofuel jatropha falls from wonder-crop pedestal, 21 January 2011 by Reuters: "Jatropha, a biofuel-producing plant once touted as a wonder-crop, is turning out to be much less dependable than first thought, both environmentalists and industry players say."
    • "Some biofuel producers found themselves agreeing with many of the criticisms detailed in a report launched by campaign group Friends of the Earth this week -- 'Jatropha: money doesn't grow on trees.'"
    • "Jatropha has been widely heralded as a wonder plant whose cultivation on non-arable land in Africa, Asia and Latin America would provide biodiesel and jobs in poor countries without using farmland needed to feed growing numbers of local people."
    • "'Jatropha is not the miracle crop that many people think it is,' said Dominic Fava, business development manager of British biofuels firm D1 Oils, which processes jatropha grown in Asia and Africa."
    • "'The idea that jatropha can be grown on marginal land is a red herring,' Harry Stourton, Business Development Director of UK-based Sun Biofuels, which cultivates jatropha in Mozambique and Tanzania, told Reuters."
    • "'It does grow on marginal land, but if you use marginal land you'll get marginal yields,' he said."[15]
  • Global biofuel land area estimated, 10 January 2011 by UPI.com: "University of Illinois researchers, using detailed land analysis, identified land around the globe available to produce grass crops for biofuels with minimal impact on agriculture or the environment."
    • "The Illinois study focused on marginal land for biofuel crops."
    • In their computer modeling, the researchers ruled out current crop land, pasture land, and forests."
    • "Researchers said an estimated land area of 2.7 million acres was available globally, an area that would produce 26 to 56 percent of the world's current liquid fuel consumption."[16]
  • Review Highlights Knowledge Gaps Surrounding Biofuels and Land Use Change, 9 December 2010 by PRNewswire: "The development of biofuels has increased exponentially over the past decade, and will continue to do so as many countries seek to move away from dependence on fossil fuels. However, increasing use of biofuels raises serious questions about changing land use – and policymakers have found it hard to keep pace with the issues involved."
    • "A new paper, Biofuels and Land Use Change: A Science and Policy Review, prepared by science and agriculture organization CABI and Hart Energy Consulting, reviews key research that has been conducted on the subject and analyses where the gaps in knowledge lie."
    • "'The switch away from fossil fuels to renewable alternatives will have unforeseen consequences, especially for highly populated resource-poor countries,' said Janny Vos, Business Development Manager of CABI. 'At present the role of biofuels in this process is unclear. We hope that this review goes some way towards identifying the questions that need to be asked about land use change, and the areas in which we need further research.'"[17]
  • In Defense of Biomass, 11 August 2010 by 25 x 25: "Over the past several years, the production of biomass for use as renewable energy has elicited criticism from some on Capitol Hill and from some in the environmental community who have drawn their conclusions from flawed assumptions and misconstrued data."
    • "The latest assault is focused on greenhouse gas emissions from bioenergy and other biogenic sources and more specifically how they should be calculated. Farm and forestry bioenergy feedstock suppliers and their partners along the value-chain are being aggressively challenged about the ways in which they measure and account for the differences between bioenergy pathways and fossil fuel pathways."
    • "In response, the 25x’25 Alliance has created a new work group that will develop recommendations for how greenhouse emissions (GHGs) from biomass energy development should be calculated. The mission of the Work Group is to develop a set of overarching bioenergy accounting principles that policy makers and regulators can use to assess the GHGs from bioenergy and other biogenic sources."
    • "The EPA is currently soliciting information and viewpoints to help the agency address the issue of the carbon neutrality of biogenic energy. The agency has imposed a Sept. 13 deadline for the public comment period, and the Work Group’s first priority is to study the issue of biogenic emissions and provide EPA with information and recommendations."[19]
  • Researchers propose movable biofuel center, 8 July 2010 by UPI.org: "If gricultural waste can't go to a biofuel processing center, then the processing center should go to the agricultural waste, U.S. researchers theorized."
    • "Researchers at Purdue University propose creating mobile processing plants that would roam the Midwest to produce biofuels using a technique called fast-hydropyrolysis-hydrodeoxygenation, the West Lafayette, Ind., university said this week in a release."
    • "'What's important is that you can process all kinds of available biomass -- wood chips, switch grass, corn stover, rice husks, wheat straw,' said Rakesh Agrawal, the Winthrop E. Stone distinguished professor of chemical engineering."[20]
Sketch of an apparatus for testing biofuel potential of various agricultural wastes, created by the RPI spring 2010 biomass capstone group. Image from The New York Times blog article A New Approach to Biofuel in Africa
  • A New Approach to Biofuel in Africa, 12 July 2010 by Ron Eglash: "The biofuel concept: If you just burn plant materials, you put out a lot of bad pollutants. But if you heat the materials in a container without oxygen (“pyrolysis”), you leave most of the carbon as “biochar,” which makes an excellent soil additive (in fact Amazon Indians built up rich soils over hundreds of years using biochar). The gas that is given off by pyrolysis can be processed into clean-burning fuel."
    • "All of which sounds great, but skeptics point out that Africa is a prime target for biofuel land grabs, which destroy small farms and forest preserves. Hence the importance of using agricultural residues like corn cobs, and researching the impact."[21]
  • Next-Generation Biofuels: Near-Term Challenges and Implications for Agriculture, June 2010 by William Coyle: "Next-generation biofuel companies are using a variety of strategies to overcome high initial capital costs, limited access to low-cost biomass, and other hurdles to remain financially viable during pre-commercial development."
    • "Achieving the U.S. goal to triple biofuel use by 2022 will depend on rapid expansion in cellulosic biofuels, and U.S. agriculture, as a leading source of the Nation’s biomass, will play a significant role in this expansion."
    • "There are more than 30 U.S. companies developing biochemical, thermochemical, and other approaches to produce next-generation fuels. Most of these firms are currently engaged in small-scale production, experimenting with a variety of feedstocks. Most are also focusing on cellulosic ethanol, a fuel identical to corn ethanol—now commonly used as a gasoline additive. Because ethanol provides only two-thirds of the energy of gasoline and faces blending and transportation constraints, some companies are developing products like green gasoline, green diesel, and biobutanol, which are closer substitutes for fossil fuels."
    • "If next-generation biofuels are to play a key role in America’s energy future, a number of challenges must be overcome, foremost of which are reducing costs."[22]
  • Will Extending the Ethanol Tax Credit Slow Progress Toward Advanced Biofuels?, 25 April 2010 by Solve Climate: "The federal tax credit for ethanol is among the most controversial energy- or environment-related policies in the country. The volume on all sides of the issue is increasing, with some shouting down ethanol’s claim to lower greenhouse gas emissions, others touting the tax credit’s job-creation capabilities and still others lamenting the diversion of farmland for fuel."
    • Autumn Hanna of Taxpayers for Common Sense was quoted in the article as saying, the tax credit "does little more than pad the pockets of big oil companies like Shell. The ethanol tax credit has already cost taxpayers more than $20 billion in the last five years and, if extended, taxpayers stand to lose billions more. Since the 1970's, taxpayers have heavily subsidized corn ethanol. It’s time this mature energy industry stand on its own two feet."
    • "Legislators from agricultural states claim that ethanol won’t prosper on its own yet, and that more than 100,000 jobs would be lost if the credit were allowed to lapse."
    • Craig Cox, the senior vice president for agricultural and natural resources at the Environmental Working Group "argues that extending the ethanol tax credits now will only divert resources from much-needed research into those second-generation fuels."[25]
  • UN 'exaggerated' meat impact on climate change, 25 March 2010 by Farmer's Guardian: "A leading scientist has accused the UN of exaggerating the impact of meat and dairy production on climate change."
    • "A 2006 UN report published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation claimed meat production was responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions....The report, titled 'Livestock's Long Shadow', added agriculture had a greater impact on global warming than transport."
    • "But Professor Frank Mitloehner, an air quality specialist from the University of California at Davis (UCD), said agriculture's impact had been exaggerated....He said the UN figures totted up emissions from farm to table ? including the impact of growing the feed, from livestock and from processing....However, transport emissions only considered emissions from fossil fuels burned while driving."
    • "He said leading authorities in the US agreed raising cattle and pigs for food accounted for about 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation created an estimated 26 percent."[26]

Websites

  • Agropedia - "a comprehensive, seamlessly integrated model of digital content organization in the agricultural domain." Focused on India. Lead organization is ICRISAT.


Agriculture edit
Issues: Ecosystem displacement | Food versus fuel debate | Intensification of agriculture | Land use change
Soil: Soil amendments (Agrichar/Biochar, Terra preta) - Soil carbon sequestration
US - Department of Agriculture | Farm Bill
Crops/Plants (Feedstocks) | Drylands | Livestock


Land use edit
Dry lands | Land tenure | Land use change (LUC case studies) | Land Use Impacts of Fossil Fuels | ILUC Portal

Indirect land use impacts (Searchinger-Wang debate)
Land use change factors: Agriculture (Livestock, Crops - Rice) | Deforestation | Mining


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