New research paper looks at impacts of increased corn production

Ann Arbor, Mich. – An assessment of the current status and trends of corn-based ethanol production and the potential impacts of increasing corn output in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region to meet that demand are the focus of a research paper released today by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes & Ohio River Division and the Great Lakes Commission.

The paper, “The Potential Impacts of Increased Corn Production for Ethanol in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Region,” looks at both the environmental and economic impacts that may result from converting additional lands to corn production for ethanol. The report is available here.

“Rising fuel costs and policies to reduce dependence on foreign energy supplies have dramatically increased the domestic production of ethanol as an alternative fuel,” said Jan Miller, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “This demand has triggered a rapid increase in corn production, since that’s the primary feedstock used to make ethanol. Meanwhile, corn prices nearly doubled in the last two years, from $2.00 per bushel in 2005 to $3.75 in 2007.” Meanwhile, he added, new and expanded facilities for producing ethanol from corn will nearly double the U.S. capacity.

Within the Great Lakes states and provinces, corn planting projections for the region show nearly 43 million acres for 2007, a 13 percent increase over 2006 figures. In the U.S. portion of the region, there are 39 ethanol production facilities with an annual capacity of nearly 2.7 billion gallons. The construction of an additional 28 facilities and/or facility expansions is underway.

The near-term increase in corn production has been largely accomplished by the conversion of existing croplands from soybeans to corn. In the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region, soybean acreage is projected to decrease by 9.9 percent from 2006 figures. With a continued demand for ethanol as a fuel source and elevated price levels for corn, additional acres are expected to go into production, including lands that are currently fallow, in pasture or in conservation.

Known and potential impacts of increased ethanol production from corn and the resulting changes in the agricultural landscape include increased soil erosion and sedimentation, increased water consumption for the production of both corn and ethanol, and increased loadings of nutrients and persistent contaminants from agricultural applications. These impacts may be reflected in economic and environmental ways. For instance, increases in soil erosion may cause more rapid sediment accumulation in harbors and channels which limit commercial and recreational navigation. The impacts may also cause changes to the quality of surface and groundwater, aquatic habitat and fisheries, and recreational opportunities.

The paper was developed by the Great Lakes Commission with funding from the Corps’ Great Lakes Tributary Modeling Program. The Great Lakes Tributary Modeling Program develops watershed planning tools that state and local agencies use to plan and implement measures for soil conservation and the prevention of nonpoint source pollution. The research paper is intended to support a dialogue by regional stakeholders regarding basinwide impacts of increased corn production on soil erosion and nonpoint pollutant loadings. The Tributary Modeling program was recently reauthorized by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) earlier this year.

For more information, contact:

  • Jan Miller, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Great Lakes & Ohio River Division, 312-353-6354,
  • Tom Crane, program manager, Great Lakes Commission, 734-971-9135,
  • Laura Kaminski, research associate, Great Lakes Commission, 734-971-9135,

For immediate release: December 18, 2007
 Tom Crane,, office: 734-971-9135

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