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A corny vignette

New Contributor II
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As a teenager, I never really did anything bad. I guess the only time I actually broke the law was when I was in my 20s.  On a very warm day one summer a few friends and I got a brilliant idea as we drove by a corn field. There’s nothing like fresh corn-on-the-cob. We decided to try a little self-service.

The farm was protected by a fairly high barbed wire fence, but that didn’t deter us. Once we decided to go for it, two friends helped me and another friend over the top of the wire. We each grabbed a few handfuls of beautiful, full ears and started throwing them over to the others. Both of us made it safely back over and that night we boiled the corn and prepared to enjoy it with dinner. Now, the bad news: It was terrible. Someone later told us this was “cow corn.” Apparently, the cows had a less sensitive palate then we did.

This adventure came back to me today as I read a very interesting ACS PressPac item about that variety of corn now used for biofuel. It’s actually field corn or “dent” corn, named for a dent-like mark on the kernels.

Almost 80 percent of current farmland in the U.S. would have to be devoted to raising corn for ethanol production in order to meet current biofuel production targets with existing technology, a new study has found. An alternative, according to a study in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology, would be to convert 60 percent of existing rangeland to biofuels.

W. Kolby Smith and colleagues explain that the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) set a goal of increasing U.S. biofuel production from 40 to 136 billion gallons of ethanol per year by 2022. They point out, however, that gaps exist in the ability to establish realistic targets for biofuel production, which the law fills with assumptions about technological developments and the availability and productivity of farmland. In an effort to establish more accurate estimates, they used satellite data about climate, plant cover and usable land to determine how much biofuel the U.S. could produce.

The satellite analysis found that to meet the EISA goals under current technology, farmers would either need to plant biofuel crops on 80 percent of their farmed land or plant biofuel crops on 60 percent of the land currently used to raise livestock. The authors reported that both options would significantly reduce the amount of food U.S. farmers produce. They also noted that research shows that increased farming could lead to more polluted freshwater and accelerate global climate change.

Read more about this new study.


Image:  iStock