Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bioelectricity Creates Questions about Ethanol’s Efficiency

"For these beneficial approaches, we could do more to fight climate change by making electricity than making ethanol," said field and lead author Elliot Campbell of the University of California, Merced.

In a recent study published in Science Magazine, ethanol and bioelectricity were compared to determine their environmental impacts. Two factors were considered: how much cropland is used and the effectiveness at reducing greenhouse gas emissions when used as fuel.

Ethanol is a liquid fuel that can be used like gasoline to power vehicles. It is produced from plant biomass, like corn or switchgrass. Bioelectricity comes from the same type of source—biomass—but in this case the biomass is used to produce electricity, which is then used to power an electric car battery.

Bioelectricity outpaced ethanol by 81% in terms of land use, and it also offset 108% more greenhouse gas emissions. The source of the biomass did not affect the results; bioelectricity was the clear winner. For example, a small SUV could travel about 14,000 miles using bioelectricity produced from an acre of switchgrass, but it could only travel 9,000 miles using ethanol made with the same parameters. Bioelectricity is even more appealing because it has more potential to make use of carbon capture technology, which would offset even more carbon emissions.

Campbell offered an explanation for ethanol’s poor performance relative to bioelectricity.

"The internal combustion engine just isn't very efficient, especially when compared to electric vehicles," said Campbell. "Even the best ethanol-producing technologies with hybrid vehicles aren't enough to overcome this."

Still, more research should be completed before concluding that bioelectricity is the best approach.

"We also need to compare these options for other issues like water consumption, air pollution, and economic costs," said David Lobell of Stanford’s Program on Food Security and the Environment.

For more information on this study, go here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Organic Agriculture Funding Approved

The 2009 Organic Initiative was created to provide financial assistance to encourage organic production. Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has announced that $50 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program will be available to help fund this initiative nationally.

"The objective of this initiative is to make organic food producers eligible to compete for EQIP financial assistance," said Merrigan.

Both National Organic Program certified organic producers and producers who are moving toward organic practices may apply. If you are interested, you should visit your nearest USDA Service Center to make sure you are eligible. Applications must be turned in by May 29.

Applications will be ranked using two National Screening Tools (one for certified producers and one for producers who are transitioning to organic practices). Ranking will be based on core conservation practices and resources concerns related to National Organic Program objectives. For a list of the objectives or for more information, go here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Harvesting Rainwater would make Increasing Crop Production Possible

Many questions loom about water availability in the future. Will there be enough for crop production, especially with the increasing world population? Will climate change make water even more scarce? Past predictions suggest that there will be a water shortage, but recent research published in the Water Resources Research journal suggests that there may be a way to prepare and adapt.

A team of Swedish and German scientists decided to consider future water availability using both “blue” and “green” water. Blue water is what is usually considered when trying to determine if there will be enough water; it includes river discharge and groundwater. What makes this study unique is that it also looks at “green” water, which is water that is present due to rainfall. The results of this research show that well-managed rainfall will provide enough water for many countries to grow food to sustain their populations, despite population increases and climate change.

“Much of the past debate regarding various water-scarce regions focused on the absence of water rather than the opportunities linked to the presence of water,” says lead author Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The research team plans to cooperate in future studies to explore specific green water management methods to expand future food production opportunities. More information about the current article is available from ScienceDaily.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dedication Ceremony to Honor Norm Berg

On Friday, May 15, 2009, the National Plant Materials Center in Beltsville, Maryland, will be renamed as the Norman A. Berg National Plant Materials Center to honor Berg’s contributions to conservation. The renaming ceremony will begin at 11:00 am and will last about an hour. It will take at the National Plant Materials Center located in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Complex at 8840 Beaver Dam Road, Building 509, Beltsville, Maryland 20705; phone (301) 504 8175.

Congress elected to dedicate the National Plant Materials Center in honor of Berg in the 2008 farm bill. The ceremony will be led by Dave White, Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service is sponsoring the event.

All are welcome to attend. Be sure to RSVP to Ayana Williford by phone (202-720-3210) or email ( You should also plan to arrive early.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

SWCS Annual Conference Podcast #2

64th International SWCS Annual Conference
July 11-15, 2009 in Dearborn, Michigan

As a part of the planning for the 2009 SWCS Annual Conference, we are pleased to bring you a series of podcasts featuring key members of the program committee and planning team for the conference.

Today’s podcast is from Gene Rosow, Director/Producer of DIRT! The Movie. We are very excited to be hosting a screening of the documentary as the special event on Monday night at the 2009 Annual Conference. Following the screening, Mr. Rosow will be our special guest for an informal question and answer session. The event is being presented by EnviroCert International.

To listen to the podcast, go to

Friday, May 1, 2009

SWCS Annual Conference Podcast #1

64th International SWCS Annual Conference
July 11-15, 2009 in Dearborn, Michigan

As a part of the planning for the 2009 SWCS Annual Conference, we are pleased to bring you a series of podcasts featuring key members of the program committee and planning team for the conference. Today’s podcast is from Jeff Strock, Annual Conference Program Chair and Associate Professor of Soil Science at the University of Minnesota.

To listen, go to

This year, the overarching theme of the conference is Delivering Conservation, Today and Tomorrow. Conference highlights include a screening of Dirt! The Movie (and a Q&A session with one of the directors); 24 symposia, more than 150 oral and poster sessions, eight tours, and a variety of additional networking opportunities. Registration and more information is online at