Swinton, S. M., S. Tanner, B. L. Barham, D. F. Mooney, and T. Skevas. 2017. How willing are landowners to supply land for bioenergy crops in the Northern Great Lakes Region? Global Change Biology Bioenergy 9:414-428.
Land to produce biomass is essential if the United States is to expand bioenergy supply. Use of agriculturally marginal land avoids the food vs fuel problems of food price rises and carbon debt that are associated with crop and forest land. Recent remote sensing studies have identified large areas of U.S. marginal land deemed suitable for bioenergy crops. Yet the sustainability benefits of growing bioenergy crops on marginal land only pertain if land is economically available. Scant attention has been paid to the willingness of landowners to supply land for bioenergy crops. Focusing on the northern tier of the Great Lakes, where grassland transitions to forest and land prices are low, this contingent valuation study reports on the willingness of a representative sample of 1107 private, non-corporate landowners to rent land for three bioenergy crops: corn, switchgrass, and poplar. Of the 11% of land that was agriculturally marginal, they were willing to make available no more than 21% for any bioenergy crop (switchgrass preferred on marginal land) at double the prevailing land rental rate in the region. At the same generous rental rate, of the 28% that is cropland they would rent up to 23% for bioenergy crops (corn preferred), while of the 55% that is forest land, they would rent up to 15% for bioenergy crops (poplar preferred). Regression results identified deterrents to land rental for bioenergy purposes included appreciation of environmental amenities and concern about rental disamenities. In sum, like landowners in the southern Great Lakes region, landowners in the Northern Tier are reluctant to supply marginal land for bioenergy crops. If rental markets existed, they would rent more crop and forest land for bioenergy crops than they would marginal land, which would generate carbon debt and opportunity costs in wood product and food markets.
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