Corn ethanol: A farmer’s experience

Greg Schwarz

As a University of Minnesota alumnus, I support the open discussion of the value of biofuels in this academic setting. IâÄôm also a farmer, and I want to contribute my thoughts about corn ethanol based on a farmerâÄôs experience. One of the key discussion points is water usage. I use virtually no groundwater to grow the crops on my corn and soybean farm near Le Sueur, Minn. We depend on rain, and thatâÄôs typical for farms around the state. As a member of one of MinnesotaâÄôs 17 ethanol plants, I know firsthand that we use between three and four gallons of water per gallon of ethanol, and we have gotten more and more efficient over the years. That puts MinnesotaâÄôs annual usage for ethanol around 3 billion gallons. To put that in perspective, golf courses use more water than all ethanol plants combined, and I like to golf as well. The Twin Cities residential annual water usage was 163 billion gallons five years ago. Sometimes, I think the ability of our state-of-the-art testing and computer modeling can bring on a shortsighted approach. Unproven modeling about land use and water use doesnâÄôt stack up against the known âÄúheavy environmental footprintâÄù of oil. Stepping back and taking the long-term view of how to best use and protect our land, air and water resources, it makes a lot of sense to include corn ethanol in the energy toolbox and to increase our use of it compared to gasoline. Greg Schwarz, University alumnus