Have you noticed how your meat and dairy prices at your local supermarket have skyrocketed lately? That is because our cars now burn up a third of the nation’s corn crop that normally was utilized as feed for the livestock industry.
Federally mandated ethanol standards first came into play in 2005, thanks to high gasoline prices and America’s dependence on imported fossil fuels. Then the bar was raised when
Congress created subsidies paying gasoline blenders for every gallon they blend with ethanol. As a result, over the last five years the percentage of corn used for ethanol rose from 9.5 percent to now approximately one-third of the crop’s total yield. Corn Economics 101 – the increased demand for corn for the production of ethanol drives up the prices for other buyers like livestock producers.
Now let us examine the Catch-22 of ethanol produced from corn. Ethanol now comprises approximately 8 percent of the fuel we consume. We are just beginning to feel it at our dinner table, but long-term how will ethanol as a renewable fuel impact America? For starters there is corn ethanol’s thirst for water. Researchers now estimate ethanol consumes three times more water than originally estimated back in 2005 – water needed to irrigate corn production as it extends to new areas of the country and water needed in the production of ethanol. Second, extensive studies indicate that energy balance between the use of fossil energy in the production of ethanol is just about equal to the energy contained in the ethanol produced. Let us not forget how fossil fuel is used in the logistics of moving the grain to the refinery and then from the refinery to the pump. Third, the fertilizers needed to grow corn are not exactly eco-friendly. Some farmers are trying to capitalize on robust corn prices by not rotating their crops properly which ultimately leads to soil erosion. Last, Americans who want to use ethanol might bear the cost of making their cars e85 compatible.
In closing, I am by no means an energy expert. However, ethanol production has thrown Corn Economics 101 out of sync. I have read about other alternatives out there when it comes to the production of renewable fuels, like cellulosic ethanol made from trash and other useless matter. This much I do know, you will not be witnessing the leaders of the meat industry fraternizing with advocates of corn ethanol in the near future.