Corn Commentary

Keeping Hypoxia Debate About the Facts

Readers have asked for a response to the blog post by Tom Philpott at in which he takes me to task for some of my comments made earlier.

In the first place, the farmers I know don’t consider themselves “manipulated by government policy and corporate interest.” They love what they do and they are proud of their work. Most of them are multigenerational family farmers who see the wisdom of applying modern technology to farming traditions.

When it comes to the Gulf hypoxic zone, Philpott shows a static and ineffective USGS chart that does not provide the whole picture when it comes to the hypoxic zone. It does not show the trend of nutrient flux over time nor does it show how the trend has shifted away from nitrogen and toward phosphorus.

Philpott leaves out another chart that shows that nitrogen flux was lower in the 2000s, just as ethanol production increased, than in the two prior decades. Since ethanol production ramped up, the average annual amount of nitrogen load in the Mississippi has decreased. There is no correlation between increased ethanol production and the size or intensity of the hypoxic zone.

The size of the hypoxic zone is beyond our control. Just look at the difference between 2009 and 2010. What is within our control is the amount of nutrients that flow down-river to the Gulf, and farmers are working hard to increase nutrient use efficiency.

The ethanol industry is accused of using the Gulf oil disaster to promote ethanol. No one talks about how environmental extremists are using it to push for their pet projects while attacking America’s family farmers.