Analysis of standing timber next on UT agenda

By Nicholas Zeman
Daniel de la Torre Ugarte, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Tennessee (UT), said his department's November 2006 study, titled "25 Percent Renewable Energy for the United States by the Year 2025: Agricultural and Economic Impacts," is currently being updated and should function as a schedule more than a prediction. The "25x'25" initiative, backed by several organizations and individuals, detailed how to obtain 25 percent of the country's energy from renewable resources like wind, solar power, and biofuels by the year 2025.

"We basically wanted to state what crop and conversion yields will be necessary to produce this much energy on this timeline," Ugarte said. "It should be considered an agenda for agriculture and research-not as a forecast."

Now Ugarte and others in the department of agricultural economics are evaluating the potential of harvesting standing timber from plantations, which could contribute to and perhaps increase the percentage of renewable energy that the United States could produce within the next 15 to 20 years. "We're looking further into the incorporation of the forest sector in terms of renewable energy production," Ugarte said. "The study released last year really only considers waste material, not the harvesting of trees from plantations."

According to Burton English, another professor of agricultural economics at UT, the 25x'25 study was critiqued for its lack of information on land-use competition between forestry and agriculture. "We only studied residues, thinnings and fuel reductions, so we are trying now to expand our evaluation of the forestry sector," English said.

Contrary to concerns about shifting land use from food production to energy crops, UT's 25x'25 study said producing 25 percent of the U.S. fuel supply from renewable sources won't hinder the ability of the agricultural sector to produce necessary feedstuffs. "The ways in which we produce food from traditional crops may change, and there may be some difficulties along the way," English admitted, but shifting acres to energy crops shouldn't hinder the ability of U.S. agriculture to meet its nutritional needs, he added.