Peter Hall from Scion talks about using land to grow crops for food or fuel.
If we are growing mass resources like maize or canola, these crops are taking away land that would normally be used to grow food crops, increasing the pressure on food prices. To avoid this problem, biomass resources should ideally be grown in places that are unsuitable for food crops. In New Zealand, this could mean looking at the high country, or steep gullies.
The food versus fuel debate is an important one, particularly around the creation of liquid fuels from biomass. So basically, at the moment, the common way of making biofuels is out of things such as maize and canola and soy beans. Now those have to be grown on arable land, or land that has traditionally been used for growing corn and wheat and other human food crops or animal feed crops. So what they’re doing is they’re using that arable land to grow fuel as opposed to food, so there’s less food. If there is less supply and the demand is inflexible, the price goes up. So you can only use the land once – you can either use it for food, or you can use it for fuel, and that is where the debate comes in around food versus fuel. There’s a further debate, which is starting to occur, which is “What are the greenhouse gas emissions from growing fuel on arable land?” and that it might not be as carbon neutral as people have perhaps been suggesting. And one of the reasons why we've come up with some of the conclusions that we have in the first part of our study, is that, bearing that in mind, New Zealand's economy is an agricultural export based economy – we want to continue to be able to grow food for domestic consumption and for export to support our economy. But if we want to be able to supply some of our fuel from biomass, we need to be growing it somewhere. If we don't want to compete for the arable land, which is the high-quality, relatively flat rolling slopes, we need to be growing it on some of the less productive, more difficult to access hill country. And really, at the moment, the only viable crop off that land is forestry.