Letter to the Editor

By | February 05, 2008
The issues of sustainability, and the environmental impacts of the corn and ethanol industries, bear discussion. However, such discourse should include the perspectives of all stakeholders involved. We appreciated that a corn grower's viewpoint was considered in EPM's article on the Ogallala Aquifer ("The Future of the Ogallala Aquifer," January 2008), but EPM's article about the environmental impacts of growing more corn ("More Corn a Cause for Concern," January 2008) didn't include any perspective from corn producers. If EPM had taken the time to visit with farmers about current stewardship and conservation practices, it might have learned the following:

› The amount of fertilizer applied per bushel of corn produced continues to decline. Over the past 15 years, farmers have seen a 17 percent reduction in the amount of nitrogen
required to produce one bushel. Likewise, phosphorous requirements per bushel have declined 28 percent during this period.

› The amount of pesticides applied to corn has also declined. Corn hybrids with insect resistance and herbicide-tolerant traits have dramatically curtailed the use of insecticides and
herbicides. Between 1990 and 2005, growers reduced the application of herbicide active ingredient by 29 percent. In this same period, corn farmers reduced insecticide active
ingredient use by 81 percent. Today, less than one-tenth of a pound of insecticide active ingredient is applied on the average corn acre.

› Most corn is grown under conservation practices, contrary to the Environmental Working Group spokeswoman. According to the most recent Conservation Tillage Information
Council survey (2006), 55 percent of farmers are practicing conservation tillage and 77 percent are practicing crop residue management. Most farmers don't use conventional
tillage with a moldboard plow, as the EWG suggests. Only 23.5 percent of farmers used conventional tillage in 2006, down from nearly 40 percent in 1990.

› As a result of increased conservation tillage, erosion losses are declining. Conservation tillage reduces rainfall runoff by 60 percent and soil loss by 90 percent. Some estimates
suggest total cropland erosion has declined 50 percent in the past 25 years.

› Hay ground and pasture haven't been converted to cropland, as the article implies. The 19 percent increase in corn acres in 2007 came from existing cropland, not hay ground,
pasture, wetlands, etc. Specifically, the additional corn acres came from ground previously planted to soybeans and cotton.

› There is significant disagreement within the scientific community as to the causes of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. Most researchers admit that the science of hypoxia is severely
lacking in breadth. To lay the issue at the feet of agriculture alone is disingenuous. Industrial emissions and discharge, unrestricted and poorly managed use of residential (lawn)
fertilizers, and other sources likely play a more prominent role in hypoxia.

› A number of new technologies and practices, such as the use of nitrogen inhibitors and variable application technologies, are making fertilizer use more efficient. Fertilizer prices
are at record levels; why would a farmer want to apply any more fertilizer than is absolutely necessary? The bottom line is this: Today's farmers are better stewards of the land
than any generation of farmers before them. Farmers increasingly understand that satisfying the demands of a growing population must not come at the expense of ecological
health, human safety or economic viability. U.S. producers will continue to seek improvements in efficiency, and embrace practices and products that lessen the environmental
impacts of crop production.

Geoff Cooper
Director, Ethanol & Business Development
National Corn Growers Association