It’s time to challenge the notion that cellulosic ethanol would have less impact on food production and food prices than corn ethanol, says Matthew Roberts, Ohio State University extension grain marketing specialist. “Cellulosic ethanol cracks me up,” Roberts told attendees at the recent annual meeting of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association in Green Bay. “I call it ‘tooth fairy’ ethanol, because there are as many people in this country who have seen the tooth fairy as have seen cellulosic ethanol produced on a commercial scale.”

According to Roberts, a major misconception about cellulosic ethanol is there’s a large expanse of land currently not being used for other purposes that could be used for planting grasses like switchgrass and miscanthus. “Some people say there’s CRP ground,” he said. “But fundamentally, CRP was created by the hook-and-bullet crowd for wildlife management purposes. If you’re managing a piece of land for wildlife, you’re going to manage it very differently than you are to maximize yields. How much do you think the hook-and-bullet crowd is going to like us cutting down their wildlife habitat three times a year? They’re not.”

The only other option for producing cellulosic ethanol on a large scale would be to plant it on the Great Plains, which would mean converting acres now planted to wheat. “You want to tell me that displacing wheat doesn’t have food implications?” said Roberts. “I would argue that cellulosic ethanol potentially, at the scale envisioned in RFS (Renewable Fuels Standards), matters a heck of a lot more to food production and food security around the world than corn-based ethanol.”

For researchers' opinions on how, where and when cellulosic ethanol is likely to be reality, see the March issue of Hay & Forage Grower.

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