Posted By Cindy February 12, 2008
Media coverage of a recent article in the journal “Science” on studies that address the possible consequences of a faulty approach to utilizing lands to produce biofuel feedstocks only reported part of the story, according to the 25x’25 Alliance.
“Unfortunately, mainstream media coverage of the studies failed to report that they also identified ways to avoid these problems and insure that future biofuels give us both a new renewable energy source and greatly reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” said a statement from the Alliance. Officials say the boost in production can be met by new and better technology without bringing environmentally sensitive land into production.
Increased demand for cellulosic ethanol and the next generation of biofuels has led to research into enhancing existing crops, such as corn and soybeans, with enzymes specifically geared towards ethanol production. While biofuels will lower the cost of farming inputs, higher yielding, technology-enhanced crops can make existing acreage more productive, helping prevent encroachment of biofuel feedstock production onto sensitive lands.
The Science article reported on studies that indicate clearing land for the production of biofuels would produce twice as much greenhouse gas as the use of biofuels would reduce.
Posted By Cindy February 11, 2008
This week’s editorial from the American Farm Bureau is about what ethanol is about – keeping more money in America.
Farm Bureau News editor Lynne Finnerty writes:
As production of corn-based ethanol has increased, so has criticism such as the claim that we could run out of food or not be able to afford it because U.S. ethanol refineries are using so much corn. A New York Times editorial of Sept. 19, 2007, said the ramp-up in ethanol production was causing food prices to rise and “threatening misery for the poorest countries.”
Ah, yes, the poor countries. We’ve been hearing a lot about them from the New York Times. In fact, it was only a year or two ago that the newspaper and others opined that U.S. overproduction of commodities due to farm subsidies was making it impossible for farmers in poor countries to compete with U.S. exports (and was making everyone fat). U.S. farmers are either over-producing or under-producing, but it can’t be both. The good news for farmers everywhere, in poor and rich countries, is that demand for their crops is way up.
Lynne then explains the other factors contributing to higher food prices, such as tight grain supplies and increased demand for livestock feed in China and India, and concludes:
It seems no matter what American farmers do, they will always be somebody’s whipping boy. But claiming that they’re taking food out of peoples’ mouths is a new low.
Which would you rather support: Middle East palaces, or a homegrown fuel industry that creates jobs and economic renewal in the U.S.? Let’s burn more U.S.-grown, renewable fuel and send fewer American dollars to places like Abu Dhabi.
Read the full editorial or listen to it on-line here.
Posted By Cindy February 11, 2008
Six state corn grower organizations have issued a joint-statement saying that “a farm bill without an optional “revenue-based” safety net is little better than no bill at all.”
The state corn association of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Maryland and Virginia say that the key elements of a revenue-based system include being based on market prices, being exclusive of other programs, and being designed to activate on need. There should also be the ability to negotiate direct payments and state and county triggers should be used rather than a national trigger.
The effort to merge old and new ideas has led to a startling gap in both the House and Senate farm bill proposals, according to state corn leaders. The disaster aid component being offered to fill this gap is insufficient and risky and seems to show little regard for the corn industry, a key economic driver for the nation.
The groups state that the country needs a program that provides assistance when it’s needed most, not one that is in place because it’s always been done that way.
Posted By Cindy February 11, 2008
“Kick ‘em when they’re up, Kick ‘em when they’re down,” go the lyrics to the Don Henley classic “Dirty Laundry” about the news media and it is so true when it comes to mainstream reporting about agricultural issues.
As National Corn Growers Association CEO Rick Tolman laments, the mainstream media ignores the positive news about agriculture and either turns it around or focuses on the negative. “We’re doing more with less, we’re getting more output for less inputs, making agriculture more environmentally-friendly, more productive,” said Tolman. “It’s just a great story and it saddens me to see the negative side or a side that isn’t even true that looks negative being put out there to the general public.”
Tolman uses words like “opportunistic,” “unfair,” and “inaccurate” to describe many news stories, especially those linking biofuels to high food prices and world food shortages. He notes that corn production has never been higher, and the price is actually less when adjusted for inflation.
“We’re producing a 151 bushels to the acre of corn, back in 1944 it was 33 bushels to the acre,” he says. “Even with the increase in prices, if you deflated it for inflation, the price of corn is cheaper now than it was back in 1944.”
Can we get that word out? Doubtful. As Don Henley says, when it comes to the news, “we all know that crap is king, give us dirty laundry!”
Posted By Cindy February 8, 2008
New Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer made his first major public policy speech today at the Cattle Industry Convention in Reno, NV where high feed costs are a major topic of conversation.
Schafer addressed the issue in his remarks, stressing that the situation is short term.
“For today and tomorrow the growing demand for ethanol is likely going to mean that corn prices will stay higher than you want them to be,” Schafer said. But he believes the energy bill outlines a plan to move the industry rapidly toward cellulosic ethanol production which should ultimately help ease feed price pressure.
“As that technology develops and as we move into non-feed sources to generate our energy needs, it will stop distorting the prices of your feed,” Schafer told the cattle producers.
You can listen to Secretary Schafer’s comments here:
Posted By Cindy February 8, 2008
It has been way too quiet lately when it comes to negative news about biofuels, but that changed today with the release of studies that say clearing land for biofuels will increase global warming. And the studies include alternative feedstocks here, not just corn and soybeans. Because we are going to be growing more crops of any type, the studies claim it will be worse for global warming than than using gasoline or other fossil fuel.
The media has jumped on this story like ticks on a hound dog. Virtually every major news outlet from the Washington Post to the LA Times is running the story, so expect this to be the next big issue for biofuels to address.
It is important to point out that these studies are based on models, predictions and assumptions that may not turn out to be true. A short counterpoint in the Washington Post article quotes Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s industrial and environmental section, who said using renewable resources always made sense in the long run, compared with gasoline and diesel fuel.
“It makes no sense to continue burning fossil carbon, which is essentially carbon that has already been sequestered for millions of years in the Earth’s crust, and which when burned releases carbon dioxide and also creates a carbon debt that can never be paid back,” he said. “It is much more logical to produce biofuels that recycle carbon, even if a short-term carbon debt is created. Even if it’s 167 years, you’re still better off than burning oil that can never be paid off.”
Posted By Cindy February 7, 2008
The president doesn’t get to visit all the different departments of the federal government as often as he would like, so it was a pleasure for him to drop in at the US Department of Agriculture this week for the swearing in ceremony of Ed Schafer as new ag secretary.
“The roots of this Department stretch back to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln,” Bush told the assembled USDA employees, cabinet members and congressional representatives. “In 1862, President Lincoln established the first federal agency devoted to agriculture — and he called it “the people’s department.” Nearly a century-and-a-half later, the USDA can still be called “the people’s department.” With your nutrition programs and support for farmers and ranchers, you help ensure that our people are healthy and well fed. With your food safety measures, you give peace of mind to families across America. And with your conservation efforts, you help preserve our natural resources.”
Bush outlined his priorities for agriculture in his last year as president with Ed Schafer as secretary, saying “We will work to make our strong agriculture sector even stronger.”
That includes improving trade and increasing use of energy from agriculture.
“We recognize that farmers also have the potential to help our nation solve one of its greatest challenges — and that is our dependence on foreign oil. I’d much rather our farmers be growing energy than trying to buy from other parts of the world. So we will continue to work for renewable fuels — including a new generation of ethanol and biodiesel.”
Bush also talked about the importance of getting a good farm bill passed “a bill that spends the people’s money wisely, doesn’t raise taxes, reforms and tightens subsidy payments” and threatened to veto any bill that does not meet those qualifications.
Read remarks from Bush and Schafer here.
Posted By Cindy February 7, 2008
The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing this morning on the effects of the Renewable Fuels Standard on Energy Markets.
“The RFS requires that increasing amounts of our motor vehicle fuel come from biofuel, such as ethanol from corn and biodiesel from soy,” said Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). “Homegrown biofuels are good energy policy, good environmental policy and good national security policy. However, there is some concern that RFS as enacted risks taking the biofuels industry backward rather than pushing it ahead. I am particularly concerned about three aspects of the RFS: first, early year biofuel requirements could be too aggressive; second, mandates for specific technologies and feedstock could prove to be overly prescriptive; finally, the environmental restrictions may be too narrow.”
Witnesses at the hearing included Renewable Fuels Association president Bob Dinneen, American Coalition for Ethanol executive vice president Brian Jennings, Michael McAdams of the Advance Biofuels Coalition, Charles Drevna of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association and Carol Werner with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.
Posted By Ken February 6, 2008
Earlier, we noted the usual ill-informed Lester Brown diatribe about food supply and the possible impact of corn and ethanol on food prices. You can read about it here, if you want to.
This week, our colleagues at the American Farm Bureau are celebrating Food Check-Out Week. You see, food has become more affordable lately, as this chart shows, when you compare xpenditures for food as a percentage of disposable income. Here’s the details from the USDA.
The Farm Bureau reports:
In comparison to working 37 days to pay for food, Americans worked 77 days to pay their federal taxes, 62 days to pay for housing/household operation, and 52 days for health/medical care, according to The Tax Foundation.
They also offer fast facts and an interesting graphic comparison.
Posted By Chuck February 5, 2008
I don’t know about you but I Google for just about everything. Sure there are other search engines but I can usually find what I’m looking for with the G monster. So I thought it might be interesting to do a little search for some news about corn. Besides us, who else is posting corn info? This might become a regular post. Let me know what you think of the idea. Of course you can always email in links to ones you find interesting too.
Here’s an interesting piece from ABC-7 News about some high school students who converted their school bus in Immokalee, FL to run on corn oil.
Automotive Tech Teacher Phillip Wall challenged his students to convert the gas guzzling bus to run 100-percent on vegetable oil.
Students had to do a lot of research and even had to find vegetable oil from local restaurants.
They also created solar-powered hot tanks that separate the oil, so sediment will settle at the bottom – allowing clean vegetable oil to rise to the top for fueling the bus.
“It’s like, mission accomplished. We did something nobody has done. This is the first high school to do something,” said student Andres Garza.