The Dutch study that the industry cited, which AP did not mention, noted that in the United States "biofuel expansion is the dominant cause of agricultural land use loss."
The ethanol industry said farmers were not converting native grasslands into cropland. The AP cited USDA's own data for 2012, the first year it collected data on so-called new breakings, showing that 38,000 acres of never-before-planted grassland was farmed.
The ethanol industry also complained that AP was misleading when it said since 2010 more corn went to fuel than livestock feed. It noted that the distillation process leaves behind a residual byproduct that can be used for feed.
The AP used the government's official, long-established benchmark for domestic corn use: data from USDA's Economic Research Service, which do not factor distiller's grain into its official data. The figures show that, in 2010 for the first time on record, fuel was the top use of domestic corn — a trend that continued in 2011 and 2012.
Monday's press call criticizing the AP also included Leroy Perkins, an Iowa farmer interviewed for the AP project. Perkins said he was surprised by the article's focus. He said he thought the AP was writing about the increase in farm ownership from people outside the area and about water quality impacts.
An AP spokesman, Paul Colford, said Perkins was clearly aware of the questions that AP had about the expansion of cornfields into conservation land and went out of his way to be helpful, even helping AP arrange a flight over Iowa farmland. Colford said that, like many other farmers contacted by AP, Perkins said he would prefer to keep land in the conservation program but was reconsidering, given the favorable price being offered for corn.
Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association in the days leading up to the publication of the AP's ethanol report emailed newspapers and other media offering "balance" in emails with subject lines such as "Associated Press story plows under the facts about ethanol."