Stewards of Sustainability

By Tim Portz | September 25, 2014

If this issue of Biomass Magazine asserts anything, it is that the best stewards of natural resources are the people who own them. Policymakers, activists from non-governmental organizations, industry association executive directors and scientists are likely to argue and haggle and point to various studies for decades to come. While all of that is happening, owners of forested and agricultural lands are making decisions each and every day about how to manage their resource. In this I take great comfort. While debates about sustainability and carbon accounting are likely to spin on and on, landowners will ask themselves a very simple question about new markets and new management approaches: “Is this in the best, long term interest of my land?”

In an interview for my feature, “A Body of Work,” Risher Willard from the Georgia Forestry Commission called forest landowners the “lynch pin in this discussion” and went on to say that if they felt the growing bioenergy market would be detrimental to their timberland assets, the sector would come to a grinding halt. Willard also echoed a sentiment everyone in forestry has heard before and that is the biggest threat to American forests are dwindling and declining markets for forest products. To outsiders, this may seem counterintuitive. To forest landowners, it is common sense.

Landowners in the Corn Belt are making similar decisions. In Katie Fletcher’s page-39 feature, “Sourcing Stover Sustainably,” she delves into the logistics of the corn stover that will be required at the two cellulosic ethanol plants coming online in Iowa. The company representatives say all the right things, of course, but the quote that should stand out to anyone reading the piece is from Mike Greenfield, who farms family land near the DuPont facility in Nevada, Iowa, and has made the decision to supply the facility with stover. “We’ve signed a longer-term contract with them for most of our acres,” he says. The list of people directly impacted by any decision Mike makes on his corn acres is pretty short. He did not come to his decision without a thorough investigation of his decision’s impact on soil health, soil stability, and yield.

The ongoing debate about the carbon implications of a transition to biomass-derived energy products should not be discounted, and this issue points to some of the most recent reports and science. Still, for every study, article and blog post asserting what we all know to be true, our opponents will counter with studies, articles and blogs of their own. What our opponents cannot counter is the long-term value and opportunity landowners continue to find in steadily growing bioenergy markets.