“Farm the best and leave the rest.” That sounds like a good rule of thumb for optimizing cropland and doing it profitably. But what happens when the economics of that axiom are upset by outside forces – ethanol subsidies, for instance. A South Dakota State University study released last March provides a pretty good illustration.
Study authors Christopher Wright and Michael Wimberly estimate that 1.3 million acres of grassland in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Nebraska were converted to crops between 2006 and 2011. Such sod-busting has been concentrated in the Dakotas, east of the Missouri River, writes Michael Fritz in the November issue of BEEF . He cites the authors as characterizing the magnitude of this conversion as “being similar to the peak rates documented during the 1920s and ’30s, when tractors and other mechanized equipment came into widespread use.”
In fact, the Associated Press reports that U.S. farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than a decade ago, taking a lot of land out of conservation use. Who can blame these sodbusters, however? They’ve only responded to the market signals.
In a recent Associated Press series on the decline of the grasslands, authors Chet Brokaw and Jack Gillum write about how the prairies are vanishing in the quest for green energy.
“Expansion of the Corn Belt is fueled in part by America's green energy policy, which requires oil companies to blend billions of gallons of corn ethanol into their gasoline. In 2010, fuel became the No. 1 use for corn in America, a title it held in 2011 and 2012 and narrowly lost this year. That helps keep prices high,” they write.
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But the loss of grasslands isn’t the only deleterious effect of the push for renewable fuels. While environmentalists and the federal government pooh-pooh and obstruct where possible the use of privately funded hydraulic fracking for abundant, highly efficient and affordable natural gas, billions in taxpayer dollars flow to much less effective technologies like wind and solar. And the unintended environmental effects don’t get much notice.
For instance, many of California's solar plants are located in the Pacific Flyway, one of the four major north-to-south trajectories for migratory birds. Thousands of birds are dying in one of two ways – they mistake the shining solar panels for bodies of water and crash into the panels, or plunge to the deaths when the ultra-polished solar mirrors bounce sunrays strong enough to burn their feathers.
In addition, a new study published in the journal BioScience estimates that more than 600,000 bats died last year in the U.S. as a result of hitting wind turbines. Mark A. Hayes, a University of Colorado-Denver bat biologist, says that estimate is “probably conservative.” Using the “precautionary principle” that environmentalists love to cite to halt development, maybe a moratorium on further windmill installations is warranted.
Meanwhile, research reported in the Journal of Raptor Research states that windmills have killed at least 67 golden and bald eagles in the last five years. That figure could actually be much higher, the article says, and Mike Parr of the American Bird Conservancy, calls the tally, "an alarming and concerning finding.”
The Daily News article points out that “wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet's wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170 mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.”
When can we expect an activist Matt Damon movie about all this?
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