The High Cost of Green Energy

Is American Farmland Ultimately Paying the Price?

Are cornfields taking over America’s prairies?

In 2010, the number one use for corn in America was not for sustenance, nor was it for produce purposes.

It was for fuel.

When President Barack Obama took office in 2009, “green energy” and the cost of fuel were some of the most imperative issues within his campaign. Gas prices then were at an astronomical all-time high in America, nearing as much as $5 a gallon in some states.  Energy conservation and fuel sufficiency has since become a crucial aspect of American living. According to the White Houses’ website, since Obama took office, “The U.S. has doubled renewable energy generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources since 2008 thanks to the President’s record investments in clean energy.”

Acres of farmland, spread across the Great Plains, just happen to be one of these natural sources.  With the federal government now necessitating that gasoline be blended with growing amounts of ethanol, there is much concern over the fact that the more farmland is used in the push for green energy, the more inevitable it is that prairies are waning. Because corn is considered such a hot commodity, and is in such high demand for oil, farmers in the Midwest are plowing unused farmlands to make way for cornfields. This is apparently causing a significant decrease in preserved land. In the Dakotas, as well as Nebraska, more than 1 million acres of the Great Plains have been used for corn and soybean fields.

Over the past decade, controversial topics such as global warming, and the significant drive for safer and cleaner energy have dominated not only the world of politics, but also the world of science. According to an article found on, scientists even made a warning that “America’s corn-for-ethanol” policy would not be beneficial, and instead, would become detrimental and harmful. In turn, they cautioned that it would fail as an anti-global warning strategy, because of the fact that too many farmers were plowing over untouched, or, “virgin land”. Chemicals are used to kill the grass, and farming machines come in and remove the rocks. Tractors then plow the land three times to break up the sod and properly prepare it for the planting of the corn and soybeans. When this plowing occurs, high levels of carbon dioxide are released.  Erosion also takes place, and farmers then have to use fertilizers and chemicals over the soil. Some conservationists may argue that instead of promoting a healthier and more energy efficient world, this rapid turnover of “destroying” farmland is, ironically, adding to the damage, instead of helping to solve the problem.

Not everyone is obliged to this practice, however. Farmers seem to be benefitting greatly because of corn’s high demand, and are, in turn, seeing increased profits. Robert Malsam, a farmer in the Midwest, states, “It’s not hard to do the math there as to what’s profitable to have. I think an ethanol plant is a farmer’s friend.” In the years since Congress passed the ethanol mandate, corn prices have more than doubled, and Malsam said that farmers can make about $500 an acre planting corn. Malsam also said that his farm only recently became profitable within the past five years.

No matter the global location, or the profession, every person is going to have a different opinion regarding what constitutes a safe and bountiful universe. However, the question remains – is this vigorous push for a cleaner, greener world ultimately destroying the one that we already inhabit? Are we, as a society, overlooking the potential consequences, and only focusing on the present, instead of the future? Only time will tell.

Quotations and additional information courtesy of the article, “Prairies Vanish in the US Push for Green Energy”.



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