Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Using Former Farmland for Biomass Crops: Massachusetts Landowner Motivations and Willingness to Plant

Academic journal article Agricultural and Resource Economics Review

Using Former Farmland for Biomass Crops: Massachusetts Landowner Motivations and Willingness to Plant

Article excerpt

Replacing fossil fuels to reduce anthropogenic climate change represents one of the great challenges of our time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) estimates that keeping the global mean temperature increase to 2 degrees Centigrade will require reducing world carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions 50 percent to 85 percent relative to emissions in 2000 (IPCC 2007), implying an almost complete replacement of fossil energy. Biomass energy is one of several renewable energy alternatives. This study looks at circumstances under which land for biomass energy production might be made available.

Compared to other renewable energy sources, biomass energy is particularly dependent on available land. For electricity production, for example, Pimentel et al. (2002) estimated that producing forest biomass electricity required 71 times more land area than collecting solar energy with photovoltaic panels. While converting biomass to thermal energy is somewhat more efficient than converting it to electricity, any form of biomass energy would require a great deal of land to replace a significant portion of current fossil fuel use. For example, in Massachusetts about 84,000 square kilometers of switchgrass would be required to meet all of Massachusetts' current energy demand (Energy Information Administration 2013).1 This is 4.2 times the land area of the commonwealth. But no single renewable energy resource can replace fossil fuel-a portfolio of renewable energy resources along with energy conservation will be required. Since biomass is also one of the least expensive renewable alternatives (de Vries, van Vuuren, and Hoogkijk 2007), it could be a valuable part of such a renewable energy portfolio.

In addition to mitigating climate change, producing biofuel is mandated by the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007 to replace vulnerable imported oil supplies. While most biofuel produced in the early years of the EISA mandate was corn ethanol, biofuel will increasingly be produced from cellulosic biomass crops such as switchgrass that, unlike corn, can be grown on marginal land without displacing food crops. Thus any marginal or idle farmland is of particular interest for future biomass energy production. In a global study of potential for using abandoned agricultural land for biomass energy crop production, Campbell et al. (2008) reported a high concentration of former farmland in the eastern United States. The extent of former farmland in Massachusetts is clear from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's quintennial Census of Agriculture. In 1905, 47 percent of western Massachusetts land area was agricultural (crops and pasture). By the 1954 census, the agricultural proportion had dropped to 24 percent, and by 2007, to only 5 percent of land area (USDA 2009). Timmons (2012) estimated that about 350,000 metric tons of switchgrass could be raised each year on western Massachusetts crop and grass land. This study looks at landowner willingness to plant biomass energy crops on this land, with a particular interest in nonfarmer motivations, since much of the former farmland in Massachusetts is now owned by nonfarmers.

Potential environmental impacts from biomass crop production also need to be considered. For example, switchgrass production causes less nitrogen pollution than producing corn for ethanol (Costello et al. 2009), yet switchgrass profits are maximized with significant fertilizer use (Brummer et al. 2001, Nelson, Ascough, and Langemeier 2006, Lemus et al. 2008). Increased use of idle farmland could lead to more water pollution from nitrogen fertilizer use or to changes in wildlife habitat. This study finds that such concerns are in fact widely held by Massachusetts nonfarmer landowners and that successfully addressing such environmental issues is thus essential to wider adoption of biomass crops.

A primary objective of this study is estimating payments or rents required to motivate landowners to make their lands available for producing biomass energy, as well as how such payments might depend on other land use considerations. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.