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Too late for biofuel crops? – Audio

David Mladenoff, Professor
Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Science
Phone (608) 262-1992

3:03 – Total Time

0:25 – The ethanol effect
0:52 – Role of Great Lakes Region in biofuels
1:25 – Open lands defined
1:57 – Open lands filling up
2:21 – A zero sum game
2:54 – Lead out

Sevie Kenyon: Is there room to grow bioenergy crops? We’re visiting today with David Mladenoff, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology University of Wisconsin Madison in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Sevie Kenyon. David, we expected to grow trees and other plant materials for biofuels but we may be too late, please explain.
David Mladenoff: So the way it is right now is most of our biofuels are ethanol, coming from corn, and the plan is that to get away from that use of corn that other crops would we better and in the northern lake state assumption is those might be things like trees, hybrid poplar plantations. In the southern parts of the States things like switch grass grow well, the climate is better for them.
Sevie Kenyon: And David, what’s changing?
David Mladenoff: The idea, a few years ago, was that about 9 percent of the total amount of biofuels from these new plant materials might come from the northern lake states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan. And so we undertook some research to determine, well, if we in fact fill these open lands either with switch grass in the south or with trees plantations in the north, what might that get us, how much fuel is really there? We wanted to take a closer look at that.
Sevie Kenyon: David, go ahead and explain to us how you define open lands?
David Mladenoff: Well the kinds of open lands we’re looking at were things that one could potentially grow one of these crops. Things that were non-forest, non-wetlands and obviously not currently in agriculture. So they might be fallow fields, meadows and old fields that maybe haven’t been cultivated really for decades sometimes that were potentially considered open lands that could be cultivated.
Sevie Kenyon: And your research looked at these open lands and what did you discover?
David Mladenoff: Well we found that, in recent years from 2008 to 2013, that over a third of these open lands in the lake states are no longer available for these other crops because agriculture has been moving onto them already. In fact, over a third is now occupied by corn, primarily corn agriculture.
Sevie Kenyon: David, where do you expect this to go?
David Mladenoff: The thing is, you know, all of this is a zero sum game. You know the landscape is full and I think that it’s a real problem that we use this term marginal lands as if there are these lands that are just sitting there really doing nothing so why don’t we plant something on them? But they’re only marginal for agriculture; all these lands are preforming some kind of a role, some kind of a function that we value. If you’re going to increase one thing you’re going to have to decrease something else and that has consequences.
Sevie Kenyon: We’ve been visiting with David Mladenoff, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology University of Wisconsin Madison in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and I’m Sevie Kenyon.