The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Lifestyles

August 2, 2012

Amid a drought, does it still make sense to use corn for fuel?

The biggest U.S. drought in half a century is devastating farms across the Midwest. Crops are wilting. Food prices are on the rise. Under the circumstances, then, does it still make sense for the government to divert a hefty portion of the nation's corn output into making fuel?

Some groups are starting to ask exactly that question. This week, a coalition of U.S. meat and poultry producers called on the Environmental Protection Agency to relax its corn-ethanol program for one year. The producers argued that the heavy use of corn for fuel is driving crop prices even higher at the worst possible moment. (The EPA denied a similar request from Texas Gov. Rick Perry in 2008.)

"America's pork producers are extremely worried, given the drought affecting much of the corn-growing regions, about having feed for their animals," said Randy Spronk, president of the National Pork Producers' Council, in a statement.

It's not hard to see why they're worried: Under the EPA's Renewable Fuel Standard, U.S. refineries are required to blend their gasoline with a certain percentage of biofuel each year. The rule has helped the United States reduce its dependence on oil. But it also requires a lot of corn. In 2012, the standard will require 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol, which could consume as much as 40 percent of this year's already shrunken corn crop.

Meat and poultry producers get hit especially hard when the price of corn and animal feed rises. Many livestock producers have to respond by culling their herds to stem losses. In the short term, that leads to a drop in meat prices, which squeezes the industry further.

Yet corn growers and ethanol producers say it's too soon to panic. "With the crop still in the field, it is too early to determine this year's final corn supply," said Garry Niemeyer, president of the National Corn Grower's Association, replying to the petition. What's more, Niemeyer noted, the ethanol industry has a surplus of fuel right now, which can help offset the impact of the drought. Under the EPA's program, ethanol producers can carry over credits from year to year, giving them some flexibility to deal with shortages.

By and large, corn farmers benefit from the ethanol mandate during droughts, says Michael Roberts, an agricultural economist at North Carolina State University. Because the demand for corn stays so inelastic, the price tends to rise high enough that it offsets the losses farmers suffer from reduced crop yields. "It's ironic but corn farmers are actually going to benefit from the drought," Roberts says.

The real pain, by contrast, could be borne by the rest of the world. The United States is one of the world's biggest suppliers of corn, accounting for some 60 percent of global exports. A recent modeling study by the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI) found that the ethanol mandate, coupled with the drought, could soon push global food prices up to levels last seen in 2008, when food riots erupted in countries from Egypt to Haiti. "Reducing the amount of corn that is being converted to ethanol may address the immediate crisis," concluded NECSI.

Other experts, however, aren't convinced that the effects of relaxing the mandate would be quite so dramatic. A recent study by Bruce Babcock of Iowa State University found that completely waiving the renewable fuel standard for one year would reduce corn prices just 4.6 percent. That could provide a small boon to the U.S. livestock industry_providing a benefit of about $1 billion, by one estimate_but it's unclear whether it would be enough stem a possible food crisis overseas.

Regardless of the numbers, biofuels mandates are coming under increasing scrutiny. Last year, the World Trade Organization called on governments to pare back their ethanol laws, saying that they had increased food volatility around the world. Some scientists have argued that corn-based ethanol can actually be worse for the environment than gasoline if they indirectly drive deforestation. (Advanced biofuels made from non-foodstuffs, such as algae, are still not yet viable, though they're the focus of a great deal of research.)

And some members of Congress have criticized government support for ethanol as an outdated form of corporate welfare. Last year, for the first time in three decades, Congress allowed a tax credit for ethanol production to expire. The credit was worth $6 billion in 2011. At the time, the ethanol industry didn't put up much of a fight to preserve the credit_after all, the renewable fuel standard would ensure a continued market for their products.

But now even that standard is starting to come under attack. Earlier this week in the House, Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Jim Costa (D-Calif.) introduced a bill, supported by the livestock industry, that would relax the ethanol mandate by up to 50 percent when supplies are low.

 

1
Text Only
Lifestyles
  • Student leadership Alumni honor students at luncheon CLINTON -- Clinton Community College student leaders were recognized at a student leader luncheon. The CCC Alumni Association honored 30 students, who were nominated by the CCC staff and faculty for showing leadership in the classroom, on campus and

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • EICC to host career fair DAVENPORT-- Manufacturing jobs are available for those who look for them. Eastern Iowa Community College's Blong Technology Center is helping in that search with its upcoming Advanced Manufacturing Career Fair, from 2 to 6 p.m April 29. Several area

    April 18, 2014

  • CCC Veterans Association host 'Honor Flight' showing CLINTON -- The Clinton Community College Student Veterans Association will be host a public showing of the Honor Flight Movie at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 8. The movie will be shown at Clinton Community College Auditorium, 1000 Lincoln Blvd., Clinton. The

    April 17, 2014

  • Sound of Music Screenings showcase films at TLP MOUNT CARROLL, Ill. -- Timber Lake Playhouse will host two events next month. A sing-along "Sound of Music" event will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 3, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, May 4, at the Mount Carroll theater. A screening of "Young Frankenstein

    April 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • April is Donate Life Month

    CLINTON -- The month of April is National Donate Life Month across the United States. Hospitals across the nation, like Mercy Medical Center in Clinton, join to recognize the impact that organ and tissue donations make and to honor the generosity of

    April 17, 2014

  • Screen shot 2014-04-11 at 4.49.09 PM.png Train, entertain your pets with these 3 smartphone apps

    While they may not have thumbs to use the phone, pets can benefit from smartphone apps designed specifically for them.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • Alternatives available for addicts DEAR ANNIE: I enjoy reading your column and agree with most of your advice, including your recommendations when it comes to handling alcohol addictions and binge drinking. I do not work in this field, but I've seen alternatives to AA that may be more

    April 12, 2014

  • Peace Soup Peace Soup completes 7th year CLINTON -- Peace Soup concluded its seventh year this week. Peace Soup was held for five Tuesdays during the Lenten season. The series for 2014, "Interfaith Connections to Peace," featured the topic of Christianity. Elizabeth Liggett, pastor at St.

    April 12, 2014 1 Photo

  • Milkweed plants Raising awareness of milkweed MAQUOKETA -- The Hurstville Interpretive Center will attempt to raise public awareness about milkweed plants. The center is holding a plant sale for area residents to try to include more milkweed plants in the region for monarch butterflies. The sale

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Women's club extends sale CLINTON -- The Clinton Women's Club has extended the deadline for the group's annual silent auction. The deadline for bids is through Saturday for the purse and bag silent auction at the George Curtis Mansion, 420 Fifth Ave. South. During this past w

    April 9, 2014

Elections
Front page
Clinton Herald Photos


Browse, buy and submit pictures with our photo site.

Poll

Should the city of Clinton appeal the open records violation ruling that will cost taxpayers $40,600?

Yes
No
     View Results
AP Video
Olympics 2014
Featured Comment
Featured Ads
Blue Zones Project
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.