Nations that sow food crops for biofuels may reap less than previously thought

January 15th, 2009 - 4:10 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 15 (ANI): In a new study, it has been found that global yields of most biofuels crops have been overestimated by 100 to 150 percent or more, which indicates nations that sow food crops for biofuels may reap less than previously thought.

The study, led by Matt Johnston and Tracey Holloway of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and Jon Foley of University of Minnesota, suggests that many countries need to reset their expectations of agricultural biofuels to a more realistic level.

The study drew on actual agricultural data from nearly 240 countries to calculate the potential yields of 20 different biofuels worldwide.

The analysis indicates that the biofuels production potential in both developing and developed countries has often been exaggerated.

Thats because current yield estimates, most of which are based on data from the United States and Europe, dont account for local differences in climate, soils, technology and other factors that influence agricultural outputs.

By offering an analysis of detailed, regional yield data that do encompass this variability, the scientists hope to empower wiser choices by countries about whether to invest in ethanol or biodiesel, which crops to plant, and how best to use existing farmlands.

According to the researchers, although agricultural biofuels have been sharply criticized for their impacts on the environment and food supply, the reality is that theyre here to stay.

That makes the availability of sound information critical.

What weve tried to do is move beyond the back-of-the-envelope calculation. The time for that is over. We need to look at better data sources and make more informed decisions, said Johnston.

Johnston turned to a global agricultural database, developed at SAGE, which provides actual yields of 175 crops, circa the year 2000, at a resolution of roughly five miles by five miles across the entire globe.

After tapping it for yields of 10 biodiesel crops, such as soybean, rapeseed and oil palm, and 10 ethanol feedstocks, including corn, rice and wheat, Johnston calculated and mapped the amount of biofuel that could be produced per hectare in every possible country by crop combination - some 3,000 in all.

To evaluate his numbers against published yield table values, he then computed a global average yield for each of the 20 fuels, as well as the average yields of each in both developed and developing nations as a whole.

What he found were large gaps between the yield table numbers and his own, especially for developing countries. (ANI)

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