Cropland Decreases as Ethanol Production Increases
In the recent USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) report, data show U.S. land used for cropland decreased 34 million acres in a five year period from 2002-2007. This is the lowest since land usage data began collection in 1945. The data also showed that grassland pasture and range land in the U.S. increase by 27 million acres during this same time period, nearly offsetting the decrease in cropland.
In the U.S., land used for urban areas nearly quadrupled since 1945 although the population growth only doubled during this same time period. In addition, U.S. special-use land areas (rural transportation, national and state parks, wilderness and wildlife areas, farmsteads and farm roads increase by 6% from 2002-2007.
What does this data mean? Farmers are growing more crops on less land. They continue to meet the demands for feed, fuel, and fiber while using less cropland. This year in Nebraska, corn farmers produced the second largest crop on record producing 1.52 billion bushels of corn on 9.8 million acres with a yield of 160 bushels per acre.
Nebraska ranks #2 in ethanol production and #3 in corn production. Currently, Nebraska produces about 2 billion gallons of ethanol a year. From the time period of 2002-2007, ethanol production in Nebraska increased 73% to 1.3 billion gallons from 350 million gallons. During this same time period, total cropland in Nebraska decreased 1.15 million acres in Nebraska. When comparing total cropland and ethanol production during this 5-year period, ethanol growth in Nebraska did not lead to expansion of cropland. This data, again, supports the statement that farmers are growing more on less.
The graph below shows the land use changes in Nebraska from 1945-2007.
In the USDA ERS report, grassland, land for forest usage, special usage of land and land in urban areas increased from 2002-2007. This is also reflected in the land use change in Nebraska during the same time period. As reported in the USDA report, the decrease in land usage for cropland nearly offsets the increase in land used for pasture and range grassland.