Submitted to: Hoard's Dairyman
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: October 31, 2007
Publication Date: November 19, 2007
Citation: Martin, N.P. 2007. Will biofuels leave dairying in the dust? Hoard's Dairyman. 152(19):4-5. Technical Abstract: With 14 percent of the nation's corn crop being used to produce ethanol, corn prices at record highs, and increased corn acreage, no one can deny the impact that the bioenergy revolution is having on American agriculture. But what about the dairy industry specifically? Can dairy producers and ethanol producers coexist peaceably? Or are they destined to compete for limited resources? Will this relationship change in the future as corn ethanol production levels off and cellulosic ethanol production emerges? Today, corn ethanol production is the driving force in biofuels. Corn grain has been the first choice for ethanol production because of its high concentration of starch. But the U.S. cannot produce enough corn to meet the Department of Energy's goal of reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil by replacing 30 percent of gasoline with ethanol by 2030. So research is focusing on ways to more efficiently produce ethanol from cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls and the most common organic compound on earth. It is difficult to predict the impact that cellulosic ethanol production will have on the dairy industry. We believe it depends mainly on: 1) where the cellulosic ethanol plants will be located; 2) what feedstocks will be used to make the ethanol; and 3) what system opportunities could include dairies. At the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center, the cell wall research that we have conducted to make forage plants more digestible by dairy cattle via fermentation in a cow's rumen can now also be applied toward making plants more fermentable for ethanol production. In addition, new money for bioenergy research can have a positive spillover effect on our understanding of dairy cattle digestion and our improvement of forage production and genetics. We also want to look at the major 'big picture' issues that should be addressed in the race toward bioenergy. How can we 'grow fuel': 1) without increasing soil erosion, damaging soil structure, or degrading surface or ground water; 2) without adversely affecting the nation's food supply; and 3) while reducing greenhouse gas production? How can we spread the potential profit from bioenergy production among different commodities and across geographic locations? In essence, we believe that dairy production and ethanol production can and must coexist peaceably; they should not compete for resources, but share resources in ways that are economically and environmentally sustainable for both.