THE SKINNY ON FOOD VS FUEL

It is a touchy subject for the original parties in production agriculture and the new guy on the block, ethanol. Grain producers, livestock producers, consumers and yes, newbie ethanol producers are all up in arms about the hottest commodity in America. I’ll give you a hint, it’s golden, comes out of the ground… and the answer is not gold, but corn (albeit the two grow closer in value daily).

It seems like everyone has got to have it and the morals our parents taught us, like sharing and cooperation, are falling to the wayside. 

Common misconceptions make understanding corn usage values difficult. I thought for a time that the government was paying many farmers not to use their farms. While this has been true throughout periods of agricultural history, today farmers are paid to use small amounts of poor agricultural acreage for environmental benefits and wildlife habitats. 

Rising prices of food and corn may seem like causal relationship, with ethanol to blame. However, there are other factors at work that many of us forgot to factor in. Prices for everything are going up. Inflation and dependence on foreign oils are all factors. Ethanol helps limit that dependability.

The fact is there is a growing number of people using cars and needing to be fed. Corn helps alleviate the stress in both these areas, but not in the way some of you might suspect.

True, there is corn in your corn flakes (imagine that!) but a majority of corn that you see in fields along the interstate or in rural areas is used for livestock feed–not your corn flakes! Now, obviously it still effects the human food chain because livestock eat the field corn and we then eat the livestock. Higher corn prices=higher beef, pork, dairy, etc prices. 

However, just because some of that feed is diverted into ethanol production does not mean the industry is stripping livestock of their food. Ethanol production uses starch from the grain leaving protein, fat, minerals, and vitamins – to be concentrated into “distillers grain”-a valuable feed for livestock. A 56 pound bushel of corn will produce at least 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17 pounds of distillers grain. Distillers grain can be fed to dairy cattle, beef cattle, swine, and poultry. It is an economical partial replacement for corn, soybean meal, and dicalcium phosphate in livestock and poultry feeds. This ethanol byproduct can even be used for aquaculture! It is a win-win situation. 

Another byproduct of ethanol: carbon dioxide. It can be used to carbonate beverages, to manufacture dry ice, and to flash freeze meat. 

And of course, the end product-ethanol-is vital for our fuel sustainability. As gas prices creep closer and closer to $4.00 a gallon (again!) it is important to value alternative fuels that support our economy.  

As a country, we need to learn to share corn amongst ethanol and livestock producers, and even China. As Americans we take for granted how little we pay for food compared to other countries. In the United States, we spend 12.4 percent of our budget on food and 17.6 on fuel.

Let’s trust agriculturalists to feed and transport the world-oh wait, they already are!

Claire Benjamin
U of I Student
Author Rural Route Review Blog

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