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CORN AND ETHANOL: EFFECTS ON LAND AND WATER IN THE MIDWEST UNITED STATES - Research Paper Example

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Corn and Ethanol: Effects on land and water in the Midwest United States Introduction The world is facing a fuel crisis and the depleting fossil fuel resources call out for us to find alternatives. It is the “biomass fuels”, primarily wood, that caters to most of our energy needs (Sinha, 1998, 1)…
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CORN AND ETHANOL: EFFECTS ON LAND AND WATER IN THE MIDWEST UNITED STATES
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Download file to see previous pages At the present rate of use the world is expected to run out of “petroleum within 50 years, natural gas within 65 years and coal in about 200 years” (Soetaert and Vandamme, 2009, 1). It was in such a high intensity energy use scenario that US started thinking of producing alcohol-based fuels from sugar, corn and other food grains. The ethyle alcohol manufactured “by fermenting plant sugars is a high quality liquid-fuel that can be mixed with gasoline or burned alone”( Sinha, 1998, 161). Ethanol can be produced also from grains… milk by products, or even garbage” (Sinha, 1998, 149). But the most cost-effective by product for making alcohol-based ethanol is corn. Hence, as early as in 1987, US had been meeting 90% of its annual ethanol consumption (3 billion litres) by using corn and other food grains (Sinha, 1998, 149). The increased demand for corn and ethanol in the United States has raised two kinds of concerns. One is regarding food security and the other is about environment. Ethanol production from corn has brought about many changes including, increased area of corn cultivation, decrease in the cultivated area of other food crops, water scarcity and also pollution (Malcolm, 2010, 19, 48). There has also been a general increase in agricultural inputs in corn cultivating areas to gain more productivity (Malcolm, 2010, 48). As a result, soil degradation and environmental degradation have become a problem in the Midwest US (Malcolm, Ethanol and a Changing Agricultural Landscape, 48). As the demand for ethanol goes on increasing in the present fuel scenario, this tendency will continue more vigorously in the future also. As the demand for corn increases, the availability of corn for food purposes will be lessened and the prices will increase. This has affected the food security scenario not only in US but all over the world as US is one of the biggest exporters of food grains in the world. This study will not go deep into the food security question involved with the corn and ethanol production, but will try to find out which are the effects of corn cultivation and extraction of ethanol from corn, on land and water in the Midwest United States. This area is chosen because it is the corn belt of United States (World Book, 2002, 1060). The area that come under corn belt is shown in the figure below (nass.usda.gov). Geographically, “the corn belt streches from Kansas and Nebraska to Ohio (Bogue, 1994, 1). These areas belong to the “upper valley of the Mississippi” river (Bogue, 1994, 2-3). It was through destroying the vast sea of prairies that corn cultivation spread in this region (Bogue, 1994, 2-3). This was the first step in a series of mega-scale human interventions that followed on the land of the Mississippi watershed from 1830s onwards (Bogue, 1994, 2-10). Initially corn was cultuvated as food grain but after bio-deisel production was started, the demand and prices went up resulting in an increase in production and cultivated area. Now, if the corn production pattern throughout the country is analysed, it can be seen that Mid-western United States is home to more than 50% of the total production (Mapdata, 2009). Review of Literature Impact on environment When a particular crop is concentrated in one area alone, such monocropping can have a negative impact on the biodiversity and environmental health of that region. This is what exactly is ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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