Corn farmers deserve to be a part of Earth Day’s environmental-progress celebrations | TheFencePost.com

Back to: Opinion

Corn farmers deserve to be a part of Earth Day’s environmental-progress celebrations

Mike Lefever

It seems as though Earth Day comes and goes each year with great dialogue about how various corners of society are taking steps forward in environmental stewardship, but without any acknowledgement of the corn producer's role in that progress.

In that regard, I can't let Earth Day 2017 serve as a repeat of the past.

Corn producers belong at the table of these discussions and have much to be proud of, in that they — along with the rest of agriculture — are continually meeting the world's demands for more food, fuel and fiber, and yet always discovering new and more sustainable methods of doing it.

Some of the great work farmers have accomplished is highlighted in a number of comprehensive studies, such as the 2012 Field to Market Report. It revealed that, while U.S. farmers increased bushels per acre (yields) by 64 percent from 1980 to 2011, during that same timespan, land use per bushel decreased by 30 percent; energy use per bushel fell 44 percent; water use per bushel dropped 53 percent; soil erosion per bushel went down 67 percent; and greenhouse gas emissions per bushel decreased 36 percent.

Additionally, numerous studies show decreases in other inputs, such as usage of many pesticides.

But while much progress has been made, don't expect farmers to rest on these accomplishments. As president of the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee, I'm part of an organization that's looking to keep the ball rolling, and has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars toward endeavors evaluating various aspects of sustainability in agriculture — irrigation efficiency, water quality, conservation-tillage practices, drought-tolerant seeds, and many other focuses.

And believe or not, there's even more to this success story.

Going beyond what the corn farmer is doing, I want to also emphasize what's brought to the table environmentally by one of the two biggest products made from corn — ethanol.

Oxygenating gasoline has long been required, going back to 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, and ethanol, because of its clean-burning qualities, is regarded as the best additive to accomplish that. Ethanol is now blended in about 97 percent of our gas supply, the majority of which is E10 (10 percent ethanol).

That being the case, ethanol in 2015 was credited with lowering CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from transportation by 41.2 million metric tons — the equivalent of removing 8.7 million cars from the road.

Biofuels like ethanol also displace cancer-causing gasoline additives, like benzene, which is the same chemical found in cigarette smoke.

There's more.

In addition to our fuel supply, corn is replacing petroleum-based products in many industrial applications — from biodegradable plastic containers to carpet — that are compostable, renewable and better for the environment. Reebok is now actually using corn to make the soles of its shoes.

Oh … there's also corn itself, and what it does environmentally. Because of how corn stores carbon, each acre of corn actually removes 8 tons of harmful greenhouse gas from the atmosphere — more than your car produces annually.

It's this story that encapsulates why I'm so proud to be a corn farmer.

It also highlights why I believe that in 2017, and beyond, corn producers — and agriculture in general — deserve to be part of Earth Day's environmental-progress celebration.