Farmers defend conservation practices following ethanol critique

Iowa farmers dispute article's claims on conservation

(REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files)
(REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files)

Iowa farmers are denouncing a news-agency investigation that suggests a federal push for corn-ethanol hurts the environment.

“There’s a lot of misinformation in there, and this is happening too much,” said Deb Yates, whose family farms land on both sides of the Linn and Benton county border. “Media portrays us as evil people. It is frustrating.

"We have to take care of this land and conserve it because that is our future.”

Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary and former Iowa governor, on Tuesday cited “errors” in the story, which focused on Iowa, and called it inaccurate and misleading.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press refuted point-by-point disputes from ethanol and corn industries about its story's findings.

So who should you believe? The answer depends on whom you ask.

Michael E. Kraft, professor emeritus of political science and public and environmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, called the article credible and questioned the motives of critics.

While he couldn’t substantiate how much land has been put into corn production since a mandate to include ethanol in fuel was enacted, he agreed that land that was once pasture now has fields of corn. Meanwhile, some of the promises ethanol was supposed to deliver, such as a form of energy that would be kinder than fossil fuels to the ozone, have fallen short, he said.

Kraft said the government has helped create a new industry that isn’t living up to expectations but doesn’t want to change.

“Farming organizations and farmers making a lot of money from the corn, they don’t want to see any changes that would cost them income,” Kraft said. “I am not sure they’d be the most credible sources.”

But Bruce Babcock, an Iowa State University professor of economics who studies biofuels, production economics, crop insurance and agricultural policy, called the article “sensational.”

AP says that five million acres of land designated for conservation have been put into production following the ethanol boom. Babcock, however, disputes the assumption that government policy has spurred the demand for ethanol and prompted surging corn prices. Market forces, primarily due to the drought, have influenced the prices much more, he said.

The Conservation Reserve Program, he noted, was designed as a tool to help control prices, not as an environmental protection.The Gazette does not carry Associated Press stories.

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