Corn-based ethanol production and environmental quality: a case of Iowa and the conservation reserve program

Environ Manage. 2009 Oct;44(4):732-44. doi: 10.1007/s00267-009-9365-x. Epub 2009 Aug 26.


Growing demand for corn due to the expansion of ethanol has increased concerns that environmentally sensitive lands retired from agricultural production and enrolled into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will be cropped again. Iowa produces more ethanol than any other state in the United States, and it also produces the most corn. Thus, an examination of the impacts of higher crop prices on CRP land in Iowa can give insight into what we might expect nationally in the years ahead if crop prices remain high. We construct CRP land supply curves for various corn prices and then estimate the environmental impacts of cropping CRP land through the Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) model. EPIC provides edge-of-field estimates of soil erosion, nutrient loss, and carbon sequestration. We find that incremental impacts increase dramatically as higher corn prices bring into production more and more environmentally fragile land. Maintaining current levels of environmental quality will require substantially higher spending levels. Even allowing for the cost savings that would accrue as CRP land leaves the program, a change in targeting strategies will likely be required to ensure that the most sensitive land does not leave the program.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / economics*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Ethanol*
  • Iowa
  • Zea mays / economics


  • Ethanol