2024 May Stewardship Advocate

This month’s Stewardship Advocate is partially adapted from an article from the Illinois Corn Growers Association entitled “A Farmer’s Guide to the GREET model”. Recently, there has been a lot of information and confusion about the GREET model, especially as it relates to tax credits like 45Z and 40B.  

The GREET Model 
The GREET (Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Technologies) model was created in 1995 by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory as a tool to evaluate the lifecycle analysis and calculate the environmental impact of technologies or products.   

The DOE states GREET can calculate: 
– Total energy consumption (non-renewable and renewable)  
– Fossil fuel energy use (petroleum, natural gas, coal) 
– Greenhouse gas emissions  
– Air pollutant emissions  
– Water consumption  

In agriculture, GREET is critical to Renewable Fuel Standard, low carbon fuel standards and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) production.  

Other Models Compared to GREET 
GREET accurately depicts agriculture’s carbon emissions. However, other models penalize agriculture claiming the industry has a large environmental footprint. Some international and state specific models were created for areas with less productive farmland and saddle agriculture for land use change emissions. Argonne National Laboratory updates the GREET model annually with the newest documented data.   

Why is GREET So Important Now? 
In 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) included tax credits for Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF). The fuel could increase demand for corn if the SAF is produced from ethanol. Without the ability to use the GREET model to accurately calculate ethanol’s carbon intensity (CI) score, corn-based ethanol could be excluded from the credit and SAF production.  

Why Should Farmers Care? 
SAF could open unprecedented demand for corn. In 2005, the Renewable Fuel Standard created a growth in ethanol demand and increased the need for corn. In 2021, the Administration announced the goal of increasing SAF production to three billion gallons by 2030. The sustainable aviation fuel industry is still in its infancy, but experts estimate SAF could create significant economic benefits to corn farmers.  

Corn farmers could have an important role to play in reducing their own CI scores and the CI score of corn-based ethanol by utilizing conservation practices like no-till, strip-till, cover crops and the 4Rs of nutrient management. These practices not only reduce CI scores but also have the benefit of improving soil health and water quality.  

It is critical the GREET model remains the standard modeling system analyzing ethanol’s lifecycle emissions. The U.S. Department of Treasury must support GREET while maintaining its accuracy and transparency for measuring the carbon intensity of corn as a feedstock for ethanol and SAF. While there is still some uncertainty about when the new GREET model (referred to as 45Z-GREET model) will be released, most estimates point to the end of 2024. 

Farmer to Farmer: Jason Orr

Jason Orr and his family farm in southern Buchanan County in northeast Iowa. He is a fifth-generation farmer who farms with his parents Jim and Janet. Jason and his wife Megan are proud to say their oldest son Jarret graduated from Iowa State University and came back to the farm as a sixth generation. They also have a 17-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son who help on the farm. Jason and his family live on a century farm in a house that his great, great grandfather built. His dad lives on a nearby century farm that Jason’s other great, great grandfather built. This is truly a family farm.  

Jason has a diversified farming operation with a focus on sustainability and multiple revenue streams, saying “We raise roughly 4000 acres of waxy corn and grass hay. We also have 55 head of stock cows and finish out fat cattle. We started planting waxy corn about 20 years as the demand for it was increasing and have been planting it ever since. We have a good relationship with our grain buyer in Cedar Rapids so we can plan our grain deliveries in the fall when they have a need for it.”   

The Orrs plant rye and camelina cover crops on every acre after the waxy corn harvest. In 2023, they switched to 100% spring strip till. The only thing they do in the fall after harvest is seed cover crops. They plant their cover crops in 15″ rows, allowing them to strip till in between the cover crop rows. They terminate the cover crops before or after they strip till depending on the amount of plant growth.  

The Orrs have a long history of being on the cutting edge of technology with their operation. Jason notes, “We have yield maps dating back to 1998. Today we have prescriptions for every application on the farm. We do all of our scouting via a drone service. Another unique thing we do is DNA testing of our soils on every acre every year looking for corn rootworm DNA to be able to prescriptively apply insecticides as needed.”    

2023 was a tough year for corn production in Jason’s area. He says, “We had some really good corn and some not-so-good corn. It was the story of where the spotty rain showers fell. I had farms that got 16″ of rain and farms that got 8″ of rain during the growing season. All in all, our yields came in right at APH for me at 187 bushels per acre. The good news is that we had very little disease pressure last year due to the dry weather.” He continues, “2023 taught me to always be thankful for Mother Nature, no matter what. I know she always has the upper hand. Just when you want to lose faith, she will do something to lift your spirits.” The Orrs plan to stay the course in 2024. The only thing they have done differently is treating some of their corn seed to try to create a better micro-biome so the corn seedlings can get off to a good start.  

Legacy and sustainability make Jason tick. He says, “My ultimate goal for the future is to leave the operation, the environment and the farms in better shape than when I acquired them. My ancestors put blood, sweat and tears into this farm to allow me the opportunity today so I have every intention in doing the same to make sure it thrives in the generations to come after me.”  

“We are doing our best to be respectful of the land and the borrowed time we have on it,” shared Jason. “Our primary goal is to make a decent living and leave the soil and the water in better condition than it was when we found it.”   

In addition to his busy farming operation, Jason makes time to be involved with Iowa Corn. He is on the Iowa Corn Promotion Board as the District 3 representative and is an active member of the Research and Business Development committee. Giving back is why he participates in these activities, saying “Other farmers paved the way for me so what I want to do my part. Through these positions, I would like to promote and educate on corn production in the state as best I can to add value and create more profitability for Iowa’s corn farmers.” 

Upcoming Events:

May 30 – Cover Crop and Precision Planting Field Day; Brandon McHugh Farm, 1667 Racine Trail Woodbine, IA; 5:30-7:30pm; Cover Crop and Precision Planting Field Day – Iowa Learning Farms  
June 3 – The Top Soil Summit; Riverside, IA; Register at 2024 TopSoil Summit: Regen Ag & CI Focus 
June 4 – Smart Agricultural Drainage Systems Workshop; Borlaug Learning Center, 3327 290th St Nashua, IA; 12:00-2:00 pm; Smart Agricultural Drainage Systems Workshop – Iowa Learning Farms 
June 5 – Smart Agricultural Drainage Systems Workshop; Northwest Research Farm, 6320 500th Street Sutherland, IA; 12:00-2:00 pm; Smart Agricultural Drainage Systems Workshop – Iowa Learning Farms  
June 13 – Innovation to Profit Summer Series; Jonathan Marshall’s Farm 683 S Ave., Paton, IA; 10:00-2:00; Research-Centered Field Day in West Central Iowa 
Throughout June – ISU Research Farms Field Days and Meetings; Research Farms Field Days and Meetings | Research and Demonstration Farms
Throughout June – Practical Farmers of Iowa Field Days, 2024 Field Day Schedule – Practical Farmers of Iowa
June 22 – Conservation Matters: The Role of Climate-Smart Agriculture in Conservation; Conservation Matters Webinar; Register at Conservation Matters Webinar | Soil and Water Conservation Society

Related Articles

BlogsStewardship Advocate
Default news thumbnail
April 3, 2024
2024 March Stewardship Advocate

This month’s Stewardship Advocate focuses on Carbon Intensity (CI) scores, including how they are calculated and what farmers can do to improve their scores. CI is defined as carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy and is recorded as grams of greenhouse gases (GHG) per mega-jewel (MJ). Carbon dioxide makes up the majority of greenhouse...

BlogsStewardship Advocate
Default news thumbnail
March 9, 2024
2024 February Stewardship Advocate

This month’s Stewardship Advocate focuses on saturated buffers, an edge of field practice that cleanses the water draining from tiled fields. This article describes the design of this practice, the effect on water quality and cost-share options that can defray most or all of the installation costs. While saturated buffers are less than a 10-12...