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More Ethanol, Fewer Inputs, Increasing Benefits: More Corn on Fewer Acres, Less Water

August 9, 2011


Over the past 30 years, and in particular in the past decade, ethanol production has quietly become increasingly efficient.  From improvements in corn production to greater efficiencies at ethanol biorefineries, America's leading renewable fuel is providing more with less. Throughout August, the RFA will be pointing out these improvements in a series of graphics and blog posts.  This effort will examine the increasing productivity of American farmers while using fewer inputs as well as the yield improvements and efficiency gains at the more than 200 American ethanol biorefineries. The first installment focuses on the increased productivity of American corn growers.  As the following chart notes, American farmers are producing twice as much corn today as they were in 1980 on virtually the same amount of land. In 1980, farmers averaged a yield of 91 bushels of corn per acre and produced a crop of 6.6 billion bushels.  In 2009, just a generation later, farmers produced an average yield of 164.7 bushels per acre and harvested 13.1 billion bushels.  This doubling of the American corn crop was achieved by planting just 3% more corn acres in 2009 than was planted in 1980. Equally impressive, farmers are producing these bin busting crops using fewer inputs.  Specifically, farmers are using less water than ever before. Just 13% of the nation's corn crop is irrigated.  Many critics of ethanol and farmers like to cite wild claims about the amount of water needed to produce corn.  But the vast majority of that water comes in the form of rain.  For those acres that require additional water resources, farmers are using 23% less water today than they were in 1988.  The same type of water use efficiencies are being mirrored at ethanol biorefineries, as we will discuss later this month. As will become evident throughout the month of August, America's farmers and ethanol producers continue to embrace new technologies and practices that reduce energy and resource demands while simultaneously increasing production of both grain and renewable fuel.