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David Sparks Ph.d Despair to Hope
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Idaho Ag Today
Date: November 16, 2017

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Taking a plant resource that is considered a nuisance by most and turning it into biofuel. There is always a question surrounding the use of corn to make ethanol. People who are concerned with feeding an exponentially exploding human population do not believe there is room to take farmable land and turn that land into a gas pump. When you think about feeding a world population that is in the billions, arable land is awfully precious and there is not enough of it. That said, is it conceivable to use another source of plant material for ethanol? I posed that question to USGS scientist Terry Sohl who is studying the question of What would it take to produce a billion tons of biomass for fuel production and he made some very good points.

 

let’s say growing switchgrass to produce ethanol becomes more profitable for North Dakota farmers in the future. Or non-agricultural lands north of the Twin Cities prove advantageous for growing potatoes. The new FORE-SCE model can portray a broader geographic extent, higher spatial resolution at 30 meters, and higher thematic resolution with 28 land cover classes—including 14 different crop types—to project more realistic landscape pattern scenarios and better assess the ecological, economic, and climate outcomes from agricultural changes.

That’s valuable knowledge not only in assessing how well agriculture in North Dakota can accommodate the need for more biofuel in the future, but also how large-scale agricultural change might affect biodiversity in the area—honey bees’ ability to pollinate, for example. With more realistic scenarios of increased potato farming in the Upper Mississippi River basin, the parcel-based model can help inform decision makers on how increased agricultural nutrients in groundwater might change water treatment requirements in the Twin Cities.

 

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