Corn Use, Food Prices, and Ethanol

Today’s post courtesy of The Farmer’s Life.

High commodity prices have reignited the food versus fuel debate.  Not that it ever really went away, but with farmers reaping high prices for several months now you can see how it’s easy for those who don’t have the right information to make the connection that high commodity prices directly lead to high food prices.  Makes sense right?  If the price of ingredients go up, then the price of food must go up too?  Well, it’s not that simple.

Let’s talk about corn because it’s the one crop that is at the heart of this debate.  If you follow any discussion about the price of corn it won’t take long before you find talk of the price of oil.  Corn prices follow the same trends as oil, and at the same time corn will do the opposite of what the value of the American dollar is doing.  Those are two of the biggest reasons corn prices are so high right now.  Another problem is we’ve have a couple years of tough weather robbing some yield which puts in a situation today where we have tight carry over stocks of corn.  The Middle East, source of much of the world’s oil supply, is going through some significant political shifts in many countries and it’s affecting the flow of oil out of those countries.  At the same time the value of the dollar is dropping.

Now that we have a very basic understanding of why commodity prices are soaring let’s get back to the food versus fuel deal.  Proponents and opponents of ethanol often agree that 40% of US grown corn goes to ethanol production.  I was at a marketing meeting a while back and the speaker put it another way.  Four out of every ten rows of the corn we grow is taken to an ethanol plant.  That statement allowed me to visualize that statistic in a very real way.  Four out of every ten?  That sounds like a lot!

OK, you probably think that sounds like a lot too, and I won’t argue with you, because I think it does too, at least on the surface.  Critics of biofuels will often stop their argument right here.  40% of the crop going to ethanol, no wonder food prices are rising!  Once again it’s not that easy.  Ever heard of dried distiller’s grains or DDGs?  This is the by-product of corn ethanol production.  It’s a concentrated feed stock that is sold to the livestock industry.  When you take into account the amount of DDGs going to livestock, therefore putting that corn back into the food market you bring that 40% of corn going to fuel down to 23%.  So we’ve cut that usage number nearly in half, and we’re just talking about the United States.  If we look at grain use on a global scale, only 3% of grain is going to ethanol production.  And don’t forget, we export corn in this country, which means we’ve got product left over after we get what we want out of it to sell to countries all over the world.

The Renewable Fuels Association has written a post entitled Understanding the 2011 Planting Outlook, Ethanol and Food Pricing covering all these figures and how farmers are producing more on the same amount of total acres year after year.  You can see in the RFA chart that planted acres haven’t changed in 15 years.  As farmers continue to adopt new technologies in seed and equipment, and increase the use of more and more environmentally friendly practices like cover crops, they are going to keep getting more productive in the future.

So you don’t need to worry that you’re starving children in underdeveloped countries if you top off your tank with E15, E85, or biodiesel.  It’s more likely those kids are starving due to regional economics and politics, not because American farmers are greedy.

Brian Scott
The Farmer’s Life


I am Marla Hasheider.  My husband Larry and I are grain and livestock farmers.  We have three children and three grandchildren, with one on the way in a month.  We also have a love of gardening.

Larry and I love tilling the soil, planting seeds, watching them grow, and harvesting from our labor.  It doesn’t matter how well or bad my garden did last year, I am optimistic this year will be a good year and have a good harvest.  Larry (and I believe all farmers) are excited and optimistic in the spring when they plant their seeds and watch them grow.

Two weeks ago we tilled the garden to prepare for planting.  I have lettuce and spinach up and growing already and I have peas, potatoes, and strawberries in the ground.  I will also plant broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, bell peppers, green beans, tomatoes, and jack-o-lantern and pie pumpkins when the time is right.

Larry looks forward to our garden maturing because he likes to go in the garden and pick some pea pods and just shell them and eat.  Talk about a healthy afternoon snack!

I love planting the large varieties of watermelon.  Last year I grew a watermelon that weighed 120 pounds.  I picked it to enter it in the Okawville Wheat Festival and won first place.  After the fair, we cut it open and it was not even red inside.  It had a lot of maturing to still do.

Giant PumpkinTwo years ago I planted pumpkin seeds for large pumpkins.  Once the pumpkins developed on the vine, you could see it getting bigger every day.  When the grand kids came over, I would take them out to the pumpkin patch to see the pumpkin.  Larry, our son and a nephew loaded it on a trailer and we took it to enter it in the Wheat Festival.  The scale at the Wheat Festival was not big enough to weigh the pumpkins so we took them to the grain elevator in town to weigh them.  I grew a pumpkin that weighed 500 pounds (and two others that weighed 340 and 380 pounds!) I won first place with that pumpkin.

I am the cook at our Lutheran School in town.  Last year I grew enough jack-o-lantern and pie pumpkins that I gave every student (60) in our school a pumpkin.  We also have blackberries, cherries, rhubarb and grapes that we enjoy every year.

Larry plants lots of sweet corn.   Our son wanted to plant a lot so we could give some away.  Our children and grandchildren come over and in assembly line fashion, we cut the corn off the cob and freeze it.  Everybody takes plenty home to eat all year long.  The extra corn we give to family and friends.  For us, it is more fun to give it to friends to enjoy than to take it to farmers market and sell it.

The garden is a fun place for me.  I love to try growing new things and I appreciate the bounty that it provides my family and my community every year.  Especially at this time of year, when my plot of soil is so full of the promises of good food, my family working together and award winning crops, I can always look out at my garden and smile.

Marla Hascheider
Illinois farmer


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


There’s a lot of talk, well, mainly hype and marketing, about what to feed one’s family. Being a mom as well as the primary procurer of all things edible, I find myself wondering if my family is getting enough leafy greens, colorful fruits, all while not having too much sugar. Did my girls drink enough water? Did they eat the crusts of their bread? Did I remember that Josie likes peanut butter and jelly minus the jelly…or is it Anna?

Anyway, as much as I seem to focus on the details of my family’s likes and dislikes, I hardly ever seem to worry about the actual foodstuffs that my family is consuming. Why is that? Why am I more concerned about eating the colors rather than eating organic? Why am I not following the free-range, grass fed, hormone-free trend?

Because I trust my farmers. Whether they are livestock men or women, produce growers, or grain farmers, I have a trust in my food source. We as Americans are so fortunate to have the safest food supply in the world. We have had a scare or two with spinach and sprouts, but I can count those on one hand. However, I have lost track of how many times I have stopped at the grocery store this year so far. The good works of our food supply and those who grow it far outweigh the scary stuff.

Americans have become more and more spoiled with this abundant and safe food supply, and thus, have less to worry about. Consequently, many Americans have become increasingly crazy about the picky details and over-marketed, over-hyped food trends, because it seems to be our culture’s nature to worry when there’s nothing to worry about! So-called experts on television, on the Internet, and in parenting magazines have created such a monster of basically scaring the pants off of moms and dads all around our country, when, in reality, we shouldn’t be. Farmers such as my husband care deeply for their animals, keeping them healthy and safe until their time comes to be the hamburger you may have just enjoyed for lunch. Morbid in a way, I know, but true. The television ads and movies that have been produced that lump all livestock farmers as money-grubbing, bottom-line loving, and animal hating group are not the norm. I realize that there are livestock yards that are cruel. There are livestock farmers who should get out of the business, but then there are those like my husband who give their livestock the care they need.

As any good herdsman would do during calving season, he is out there in all the elements (you have to love February and March in Illinois) checking everything from the most experienced cow to the inexperienced heifer during this busy time. To answer a trendy question, yes, we administer antibiotics to our cattle, only when necessary, as a parent would do for a child. But, unlike a lot of anti-livestock press would lead one to believe, I do not lose sleep at night knowing that my kids ate beef from animals who were given an antibiotic when they were ill. Rather, because I trust my beef source (and happen to spend my life with him!), I know that the administering of antibiotics to this animal will have no effect on me or my kids, other than to make the animal better and in the end result, better tasting! Most livestock farmers are ones who went into the business because of their love of animals, and this fact alone should give the American public something to trust.

In celebration of National Nutrition Month, I challenge you all to find out more about your food source and celebrate it. Be thankful for the good farmers out there who are slogging through mud covered snows to ensure your food is not only tasty, but safe. I challenge all of you to share what you know with anyone who asks a question, or quotes a random fact gleaned from a recent Oprah show. I encourage you all to continue to trust farmers, as I know most of you do. Maybe we can start our own trend! Happy National Nutrition Month!

Emily Webel
The Farmwife


It seems that there are special days for all kinds of things to honor and celebrate. March 1st is National Pig Day. While this has not yet become a recognized Hallmark greeting card holiday, the pig is an amazing animal and does warrant celebrating. We do have a whole month reserved for celebrating pigs & pork during October Pork Month, but an extra day of attention on the pig won’t hurt.

The pig truly is an amazing animal; it’s where bacon comes from so how much more amazing can it be! There are many pork products and by-products that we use in our daily lives that come from pigs. So we wanted to share some information on pigs and how they are raised.

We need to state up front that pigs are not pets. They are raised for food and the many by-products that we get from the pig.

People that raise pigs for their job are called pork producers. Pork producers work 7 days a week, 365 days a year, on the farm providing the best care possible for their pigs.

Most pigs are raised in clean, indoor climate controlled hog barns, so that we can better care for the pigs and they are healthier. Have you ever heard anyone say they sweat like a pig? That’s not true. Pigs can’t sweat – that’s why pork producers use misters in hog barns – like sprinklers in the summer – so they stay cool. In the winter, pigs are kept warm because the buildings have piggies, baby pigs, swineheaters, just like your house.

Baby pigs are raised in special barns with their mothers, called sows. To keep the baby pigs from getting hurt or stepped on they are kept in birthing pens called farrowing stalls. When the piglets reach 10-15 pounds, they are weaned – taken off their mother’s milk and given solid food.   

Pigs eat a balanced diet of corn, soybean meal, and vitamins. Pigs eat a lot.  It takes 5 billion pounds of corn and soybeans to feed all the pigs in Illinois each year. If you filled a big truck to the top, it would take 100,000 trucks to move all that grain! Put them end to end, they would stretch from Illinois all the way to Disneyworld!

Baby pigs weigh about 2 pounds when they are born. In only 6 months they grow to 270 pounds and are ready for market. The pigs are then transported to a processing plant, where they are harvested and then processed into the delicious pork that we eat such as – pork chops, bacon, ham, sausage, ribs, pork burgers, and more.

Pork is the most consumed meat in the world and American pork producers take pride in producing a food they feed their own family, as well as many families worldwide. From farm to fork, U.S. pork producers provide good food at a great value for families nationwide.

Pork is good for you and an important part of your diet. It provides your body with protein that builds muscle and helps your bodies grow. On average, the six most common cuts of pork are 16 percent leaner than 20 years ago, and saturated fat has dropped 27 percent. Including lean pork in the diet can help you lose weight while maintaining more lean tissue (including muscle).

There are also more than 500 pork by-products that come from pigs including life saving items such as replacement heart valves, skin grafts for burn victims and insulin. Other pig by-products are used in making industrial products such as gelatin, plywood adhesive, glue, cosmetics and plastics.

For more than 1,700 delicious pork recipes, tips on cooking pork and many other pork resources visit and for more information on the Illinois pork industry visit  

Tim Maiers, Communications
Illinois Pork Producers Association


Growing up around agriculture my entire life, getting recently engaged to a “farm boy,” and in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I find it appropriate to talk about what I LOVE most about agriculture and how it actually relates to my Valentine’s Day plans.  My plans for this Valentine’s Day are probably similar to many others, and as I was thinking about my plans I quickly realized how everything is related back to agriculture, and that’s what I love most about it.  food, heart, bread, valentine

For Valentine’s Day, I will be buying my fiancé a box of his favorite chocolates, he will probably “surprise” me with flowers, and then we will go out for a nice romantic dinner where we will both enjoy our favorite restaurants dinner rolls, followed by a salad, and then onto the steak and potatoes, and then if we have room, we might splurge and get some dessert too. 

Did you realize it too?  From the chocolates to the dinner rolls to the steak and potatoes, all of my plans for the day can be traced back to agriculture. 

Valentine’s Day is a special day to some, but not just the things you do on Valentine’s Day can be related back to agriculture.  Everything you do everyday can be traced back to agriculture, and it’s really pretty interesting to think about. 

Everything you use in your life can be traced back to agriculture, and that fact is so often times over looked, but that’s what I love most about agriculture.  So, thank a farmer for not only being able to go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day with that special someone, but for being able to go out and live everyday! 

Kristen Wyman

Illinois State University student


It’s almost the end of January, but we have one more soup recipe to share with you for National Soup Month.  Enjoy this one and if you have a great recipe for soup that you’d like to share, please comment below!

Today’s Fact:  Americans sip over 10 BILLION bowls of soup every single year!

Today’s Tip:  The best soups are made with a base of homemade stock and fresh ingredients. Obviously we all don’t have the time for this every day.  To save yourself some time but to maintain great flavor use canned or frozen broths or bouillon bases.

Today’s Recipe: Tortellini Soup 

What You’ll Need:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 whole onion, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 15 ounces, canned diced tomatoes (I like the italian seasoned variety)
  • 1 pound hot sausage
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 package tortellini (11 ounce)
  • 3 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese

What You Do:

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and onion and saute about 5 minutes.

Add the oregano, broth, tomatoes and salt and pepper.

Bring soup to a boil and simmer.  While soup is simmering brown sausage and drain.

Add sausage to soup pot.  Bring back to a boil.

Add the tortellini and cook according to package directions.

One minute before tortellini is done, add the spinach and cream.

Remove pot from heat, season with additional salt and pepper.

Serve topped with grated parmesan cheese.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant


Brrrr … 70 percent of our nation  has seen snow this month!  I can’t think of a better time to celebrate National Soup Month with some warm and toasty, hearty soups.  Join us on Thursdays in January for more recipes! 

Today’s fact: Did you know that soup originated as the first “fast food”?  In ancient Greece, it was sold on the street using lentils, beans and peas as the chief ingredients. 

Today’s tip: For an easy treat when making stews, take a stack of tortillas and cut into long thin pieces.  Add to the stew during the last 15 minutes of cooking.  Corn tortillas are lower in fat that flour tortillas.

Today’s recipe: White Chicken Chili

soup chili chicken

This is a soup that works well both on the stovetop or in the crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.  A very hearty meal that will warm you up AND fill you up!     


2 TBLS Vegetable Oil
6 6oz boneless, skinless chicken breasts – cut into bite size chunks
Salt and Pepper
1 medium yellow or white onion
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 TBLS ground coriander
2 TBLS ground cumin
1 cup of mild or hot tomatillo, green salsa
4 cups of chicken stock or broth
2 cans (15 oz) cannellini or Great Northern white beans
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
Juice of one lime
Shredded Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack cheese
White Rice (optional)
Chipotle Tabasco Sauce (optional)


1. Heat medium soup pot over medium-high heat with the vegetable oil.
2. Add the chicken to the hot oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
3. Cook 2 or 3 minutes, stirring frequently. 
4. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, cumin, coriander and cook for 3 or 4 minutes. 
5. Continue to stir. 
6. Add the tomatillo salsa, Tabasco sauce and the chicken stock. 
7. Bring the chili up to a simmer and add half of the beans. 
8. With a fork, thoroughly mash the other half and then add to the chili.  This will help thicken the chili. 
9. Add rice for added thickness if desired. 
10. Simmer the chili for 10 minutes, remove from heat and add the cilantro, parsley and lime juice. 

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

If you missed them:
Spicy Corn Chowder
Zuppa Toscana


For the month of January (National Soup Month), Thursdays are our days to feature yummy, hearty soup recipes!  Today you can plan to warm up with a bowl of Zuppa Toscana, almost exactly like the Olive Garden makes!

Today’s fact:  The most popular theory of where the word “soup” originated is that it stems from the word “sop”. People would pour broth over a slice of bread which would “sop” up the broth.

Today’s tip:  To make soups or stews thicker, try adding a tablespoon or more of instant potatoes or one-half cup rolled oats or wheat flakes.

Today’s recipeZuppa Toscana Soup

zuppa toscana, soup, potatoes, kale(This is a rip-off recipe from the Olive Garden’s delicious soup.) 


1 lb Hot Italian Sausage, crumbled
4 strips bacon, crumbled
3 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
4 large potatoes, cubed
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cups kale, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese


1. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown sausage.  Drain and set aside.
2. In same skillet brown bacon.  Drain and set aside.
3. Place water, broth, potatoes, garlic, and onion in a pot.  Simmer over medium heat until potatoes are tender.
4. Add sausage and bacon to pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
5. Add kale and cream to pot, season with salt and pepper, heat through.
6. Add parmesan to individual servings.

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

If you liked this recipe, check out my soup recipe from last week!