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Using GIS to Compare Different Uses of Farm Land and its Profitability

Using GIS to Compare Different Uses of Farm Land and its Profitability

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Using GIS to Compare Different Uses of Farm Land and its Profitability

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  1. Using GIS to Compare Different Uses of Farm Land and its Profitability Carrie Foster Feb 26, 2008

  2. What will allow farmers to profit most from their land? Enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program(A federal program that pays farmers not to farm their land)orCrop Production

  3. Why is this a Concern? In one word - ETHANOL • Due to environmental movements and high oil prices there is push from the national level for an increase in ethanol use • This is increasing the value of corn • Farmers who have previously enrolled land in the conservation reserve program may now consider planting crops to be harvested on their land Financially…is it worth it?

  4. What this Project is not… Although related to the production of ethanol, this project will NOT discuss the following: • Whether or not there is an overall energy gain from the production of ethanol. • The agricultural ethics that can be considered when planting crops for reasons other than food.

  5. Background Information

  6. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) • Program began in 1985 • Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) • Farmers volunteer to enroll “environmentally sensitive land” for 10-15 year periods. • Farmers will receive payment for enrolling in program. • In 2006, ~32.5 million acres enrolled in the general CRP program with payments ranging from $27.14 – $90.90 per acre. • PA had 53,936 acres enrolled with an average payment of $40.30/acre.

  7. Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) Reference:, 2/23/08

  8. CRP Benefits • Reduction in soil erosion • Reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes • Improves water quality • Support wildlife habitat • Sequesters carbon • Land will be planted with covers such as trees, grasses and other cover crops • The environmental benefits of this include:

  9. CRP Ranking • Amount of reduced soil erosion • Wildlife habitat benefits • Water quality benefits • Air quality benefits • Benefits beyond the contract • Cost • Enrolling into the CRP is a competitive procedure. • Applicants ranked upon six factors:

  10. Biofuels • A Biofuel is a “fuel made from plants, organic waste products and various other forms of biomass.” • Two most common Biofuels in the U.S. are ethanol and biodiesel. Top Five Biofuel Producers in 2005 Reference:, 2/23/08

  11. Biofuels • Why the push for Biofuels? • Potential to reduce air pollution and the greenhouse gases being released into atmosphere • Benefits farm incomes and rural development • Reduces dependence on foreign oil • Biofuels are renewable

  12. Ethanol • Created from sugars found in grains • A common mix of ethanol/gasoline contains 10% ethanol • Encouraged by a $0.51 per gallon tax credit when it is mixed with gasoline (~5.1 cents/gallon of gas produced) • Specific automobiles are able run on mixtures containing 85% ethanol (E85 gasoline) Reference:, 2/23/08

  13. Which is Better for Ethanol Production… Corn or Switchgrass?

  14. Corn Production • In the US, about 92% of the corn harvested each year is for the corn grain = ~71 million acres • Between 2000 and 2006 grain yields ranged from 129 to 160 bushels/acre • Averages about 4 tons/acre/year • About 80% of corn production is in rotation with another crop • National average of fertilizer use: Reference:, 2/23/08

  15. Reference:, 2/23/08

  16. Corn for Biofuels • As of today corn is the main feedstock for the ethanol production in the U.S. • The grain from the corn is the main component that is currently used for ethanol production • In 2006 about 2.15 billion bushels of corn, about 18% of the nation’s corn crop, were used for ethanol production

  17. Switchgrass – General Information • Can be found east of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico • It is a perennial grass - replant about every 10 years • Standard farm equipment is used to plant and harvest • In some cases it can be harvested two times a year • Deep root system is good for erosion control and improving soil quality. Reference:, 2/21/2008

  18. Switchgrass Production • Not currently produced on a large scale • An average of 5.2 to 8.45 dry ton/acre/year were produced on research plots. • Three years is needed to reach potential maximum yield • First year = 20-35% of mature yield • Second year = 60-75% of mature yield • National average fertilizer use: Reference:, 2/23/08

  19. Switchgrass for Biofuels • Switchgrass can also be turned into ethanol (cellulosic ethanol). • This ethanol is different than ethanol made from corn because it is created from cell walls, not the grain. • Benefits • Can be productive across a wide geographic region • Productive on marginal lands • Low water and nutrient requirements • Positive environmental benefits • Better yield (than corn) per hectare • Produces more liters of ethanol (than corn) per hectare

  20. Ethanol Production Comparisons Reference:, 2/23/08 Reference: Rajagopal, D., S.E. Sexton, D. Roland-Holst and D. Zilberman, “Challenge of Biofuel: Filling the Tank without Emptying the Stomach?” Environmental Research Letters 30 November 2007. 12 January 2008 <>

  21. Objectives and Methodology

  22. Project Objectives • Study PA land currently enrolled in Conservation Reserve Program • Determine profitability of farmland while in CRP • Determine profitability of farmland if used to produce switchgrass • Compare the profits to identify any trends across the state

  23. GIS Analysis • ESRI’s ArcView 9.0 • Spatial Analyst extension • Layers for Analysis • Land Use/Land Cover • Soil Ratings for Plant Growth (SRPG) Layer • CRP Layer

  24. Layers 30 m pixels in the LULC layer set the resolution for the analysis LULC layer – 30 m pixels Vector data will need to be converted into raster data Soils SRPG data – vector

  25. GIS Analysis Once the layers are set up and turned to raster grids: • Select agricultural lands from the LULC layer • Select agricultural lands within CRP (or those that meet CRP criteria, if necessary) • Stratify based upon SRPG values • Assign dollar values to productivity classes • Adjust dollar value based upon average production costs • Compare those values to the values of the CRP to determine which will be more profitable

  26. Results The final results can be used by: • Farmers who have a CRP lease expiring and need to decide if they should stay in the program or farm the land • USDA/FSA to see how their payments compare to profits if land was farmed • Other states to compare the profit made from crop production when compared to CRP rates

  27. Project Timeline Feburary 26, 2008 – Present project proposal Late March – Submit abstract for conference July 16th – 18th, 2008 – Present project and results at the NE Soil Science Society of America conference in Montreal, Canada

  28. References American Coalition for Ethanol. 12 February 2008 SunGrant BioWeb. Switchgrass. 10 February 2008 SunGrant BioWeb. Corn. 10 February 2008 USDA Farm Service Agency. Program Fact Sheet. June 2006. 10 January 2008

  29. Questions?