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King Corn and Big Oil

Over the weekend, I watched the documentary King Corn. It was released in October 2007, but I just now got around to watching it online at Netflix. The premise is that a pair of college friends from the East Coast wanted to learn more about where our food comes from. When they learn about the importance of corn in our food supply, they move to Iowa and decide to grow an acre of corn over a growing season in order to better understand its role in the food chain.

As the movie progresses, U.S. farm policy with respect to corn is explored. It struck me during the movie that U.S. farm policy has many parallels to U.S. energy policy. Both systems have been set up with the goal of providing the cheapest prices to consumers. Both Big Oil and Big Ag work within the systems that have been created, but there are many negative consequences of these systems. I am grappling with the trade-offs.

On the one hand, the movie made a point that I often hear in relation to the oil industry: Consumers are now spending less of their disposable income on food (or energy) than they have in decades. So the consumer benefits from having extra money to spend on other things. But that also means that less money is flowing to the farmers, which drives vicious cost-cutting and has decreased the viability of the small family farm.

Cheap food and cheap energy also lower the financial penalty to consumers for over-consumption. Cheap, subsidized corn has led to cheap corn sweeteners, which can be found today in many of our foods. The rise of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. has been linked to the rise of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in our diets, which can be traced back to a farm policy that encourages over-production of certain crops. (I have to admit, if the choice is high fructose corn syrup or ethanol, I will choose ethanol).

King Corn implicates former President Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz as the man responsible for sending us down this path of industrialized agriculture with a radical rewriting of U.S. farm policy in the early 1970’s. (For more details on Butz’s legacy, see A reflection on the lasting legacy of 1970s USDA Secretary Earl Butz by Tom Philpott).

Of course people are responsible for the choices they make. The government can’t be everyone’s mother. But they do put policies in place that influence choices. It is easy for me to choose not to over-consume if I can’t afford to do so. There is a reason most of us don’t eat lobster twice a week, and it isn’t because we don’t like lobster. But the calories from HFCS are much cheaper, so food dollars of those whose incomes are stretched gravitate in that direction.

Thus, I grapple with the dilemma of whether it is better that consumers spend more disposable income on food and energy in order to limit consumption. I don’t want to see people starving, but I also don’t want to see people dying from diabetes. The annual costs attributed to obesity in America have been estimated to be $100 billion, and the cost of diabetes at over $200 billion. That is $1,000 per year for every man, woman, and child in the country – and a loss of the quality of life for those afflicted. Those costs are at least partially attributable to the policies that have led to over-production of food.

I am both the product of an American farm, and a former employee of Big Oil. These experiences have shaped my views on and my interest in our respective agriculture and energy policies. I think these policies over the past few decades have led us to an unfortunate place: Fat, diabetic, and with a level of dependence of foreign oil that threatens to bankrupt the country. Further, there are entrenched lobbies that spend lots of money to maintain the status quo.

I certainly don’t blame the farmer for this. As one man said during the movie “I will produce what consumers demand. If they demand (leaner) grass-fed beef over corn-fed beef, that’s what I will produce.” That’s the same reason oil companies produce gasoline and car companies have produce SUVs.

But somehow we have to change what consumers demand before it kills us all.

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July 28, 2009 - Posted by | energy policy, farm policy, oil companies, politics

105 Comments

  1. Meanwhile, new corn is getting down around $0.05/lb. Which is about $0.01/lb above where it was 3, or 4 years, ago. 2.6 lbs of corn in a 16 oz T-Bone = $0.13 of corn in a full-sized steak. Up from about $0.11.Well, Dang those farmers, and their ethanol.Who do they think they are, Anyway?

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  2. Meanwhile, it's just a fact that the poorest State, and the bottom quintile has the "fattest" folks.This might be a problem that just slightly Above, in our fearless leader's inestimable words, "Our pay-grade."

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  3. It is easy for me to choose not to over-consume if I can't afford to do so. There is a reason most of us don't eat lobster twice a week, and it isn't because we don't like lobster. Thus, I grapple with the dilemma of whether it is better that consumers spend more disposable income on food and energy in order to limit consumption. I don't want to see people starving, but I also don't want to see people dying from diabetesThat's a bizarre thing to say. Most people don't get diabetes from eating expensive food like lobster. If anything, there seems to be a link between poverty and obesity in the US.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/01/040105071229.htm “The reason healthier diets are beyond the reach of many people is that such diets cost more. On a per calorie basis, diets composed of whole grains, fish, and fresh vegetables and fruit are far more expensive than refined grains, added sugars and added fats. It’s not a question of being sensible or silly when it comes to food choices, it’s about being limited to those foods that you can afford.”http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080207163807.htmResearchers… critically reviewed ninety studies published between 1997 through 2007 on neighborhood determinants of obesity through the PubMed and PsychInfo databases.They found that neighborhoods with decreased economic and social resources have higher rates of obesity.

    Comment by Clee | July 28, 2009

  4. Does the UK have a farm policy similar to that of the US? Because the UK also finds "Poorest at risk of worst diabetes"http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8167519.stm

    Comment by Clee | July 28, 2009

  5. As Michael Pollan begins in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Americans consume more corn than people in Mexico. Apparently tests have shown we Americans are walking corn chips from all the corn ingredients we consume. I follow Dr Davis's heart healthy blog suggestions. His blog sight is at: http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/and from him have learned to stay away from corn products and corn fed animals. I do my best to only eat grass fed meats and feel better for doing so.

    Comment by Soul | July 28, 2009

  6. Most people don't get diabetes from eating expensive food like lobster. If anything, there seems to be a link between poverty and obesity in the US.You missed my point. Overproduction of corn has led to extremely low prices for corn and corn products, like HFCS. Thus, the calories that the poorest can afford are those calories. This is where they get the most bang for the buck, which was my point. We need to tilt the playing field away from cheap, empty calories.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  7. Meanwhile, it's just a fact that the poorest State, and the bottom quintile has the "fattest" folks.Which is because they gravitate toward those cheap calories, which have been made cheap by our farm policies. That is the point I am making. I edited the post to try to clarify that.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  8. Consumer food prices as a percent of disposable income since 1929:Table 7 in USDA ERS Food CPI and ExpendituresFrom U.S. Food Policy blog a report on a food distribution study:A new study (.pdf) from King County (Seattle), Washington, looks into some of the leading concerns in national discussions of local food retail access — (1) whether supermarkets are found in poor neighborhoods, and (2) whether food prices are higher in poor neighborhoods. Nadia Mahmud, Pablo Monsivais, and Adam Drewnowski find supermarkets in neighborhoods of all income levels. For most chains, outlets were found in both poor and rich neighborhoods. Each chain offered approximately the same prices in a store sampled from a poor neighborhood and a matched store sampled from a rich neighborhood. Yet, the chains differed from each other, with some chains having much higher prices in both kinds of neighborhood.The three main things that drive taste and thus food consumption – sweetness (fructose), fat and salt. Roberts's "The End of Food" is an interesting read on the industrialization of food.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 28, 2009

  9. I do landscaping for a living. It means guzzling gallons of fluids this time of year. A few years back,I read about one of these HFCS studies and it scared the crap out of me. I started reading the labels and found out HFCS was in Gatoraide and all the other "health" drinks. It's in juices,cola's,and just about anything sweet. It's also in bread,pasta,bacon,and even those "healthy" protein bars. I'm glad some of these companies are going back to natural sugar. I'm 6'2" and have a 32" waist. A beanpole. But,diabetes runs on both sides of my family. "We had a feeling we'd see evidence of fatty liver disease by the end of the study," he says. "But we were surprised to find how severe the damage was and how quickly it occurred. It took only four weeks for liver enzymes to increase and for glucose intolerance the beginning of type II diabetes to begin."http://tinyurl.com/n89fwe

    Comment by Maury | July 28, 2009

  10. Calculating the return on investment from our backyard garden has it equal to a $10,000 investment in the stock market – with lower cost but higher labor. The taste and nutrition are better also.I suggest books by John Jeavons, Mel Bartholomew, Patricia Lanza, and for northerners, LeAndre Poisson, for those interested.Poor people with access to land can get good low cost food in horticulture. If they are willing to work for themselves!

    Comment by DDHv | July 28, 2009

  11. King Corn and Big Oil are locked at the hip. King Corn is only possible because of fossil fuels, particularly natural gas which is the feedstock for the synthetic nitrogen without which King Corn would be dead in the water.Big Ethanol also fits into that equation. It's always been difficult to understand the animosity of Big Ethanol towards Big Oil, when without Big Oil there would be no Big Ethanol.

    Comment by Laramie Jordan | July 28, 2009

  12. Ammonia generation from wind popwer – the out from big oil for big corn?AFN and S.A.F.E

    Comment by Anonymous | July 28, 2009

  13. "Ammonia generation from wind power – the out from big oil for big corn?"Anon,I looked through both links you provided. Sounds promising. Is there anywhere yet that it has gone beyond a feasibility study? (I never knew the X-15's rocket engines used anhydrous ammonia for propellant. That's interesting.)

    Comment by Laramie Jordan | July 28, 2009

  14. Let us not forget the biggest single factor with obese people. Many just plain eat too much and then blame it on 'others'. I can remember me ex sister-in-law complaining about weight as she shoveled in more mashed potatoes. Simple control of portions goes a long ways toward good health but needs followed up with proper selections.

    Comment by Russ | July 28, 2009

  15. RR-Have faith in the price mechanism. If a resource becomes scarce…On fat Americans, it ain't a government thing. People have to take care of themselves.The family farm? Interesting question–but in fact, rural Ameria is already heavily subsidized by urban America. On imported oil, I am with you. This is a horrible situation, draining our economy, and crimping our foreign policy. Who can say the trillion dollars we have wasted in Iraq would have happened save for oil?

    Comment by Benny "Boom. No Doom" Cole | July 28, 2009

  16. Kit, as I have warned you before, if I feel compelled to respond to something of yours that is full of inaccuracies or conjecture about me, I will just delete it instead. So I did.Try again, this time sticking to what you know to be fact, not what you can throw out there in the hope that you got it right. In that case, you didn't.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  17. Have faith in the price mechanism.Ah, but Benny the price mechanism is often a function of specific government policies. That is the point; specific government policies led to cheap HFCS. The poor can easily afford cheap HFCS, which has been implicated in the rise of diabetes.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  18. So who is the energy's equivalent of farmers: guys who fix up abandoned Hydro plants and sell electricity back to the companies at too low rates?

    Comment by Anonymous | July 28, 2009

  19. RR-Yes, but cheap HFCS should be seen as a boon–a chance to get minimum calories, at lower cost. Believe me (and I know you know this) in much of the world, cheap calories are what is needed. It saddens me that so many Americans are fat. I wish they would exercise, and eat better. Sometimes I wish I ate better. I wish for a lot of things, like that my fellow Americans would read books or the New Yorker, and not watch so much tellie.But in the long sweep of human history, people having too many calories shoved at them is very low on the list of human wrongs. OT: Cover story WSJ today is that CFTC will reverse itself, and now says NYMEX trader/manipulation led to $147 price spike. I contend NYMEX manipulation is what is holding oil above $40.

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | July 28, 2009

  20. "Have faith in the price mechanism. If a resource becomes scarce…"Benny ~The price mechanism doesn't work when there are rebates, subsidies, tax credits, and protective tariffs involved in the equation. Those all skew the actual market price.For example, if corn ethanol had to compete without subsidies and tax credits, there would be no market for corn ethanol, except as an alcoholic drink. If corn ethanol had to compete against Brazilian sugar ethanol and there was no protective tariff against the sugar ethanol, there would be no market for corn ethanol. And so it goes…

    Comment by Laramie Jordan | July 28, 2009

  21. Price mechanism is a direct function of policy and policy is influenced by all the forces that play inside a society, unions, lobbies, bureaucrats, etc.

    Comment by Fernando | July 28, 2009

  22. Laramie JordonYou are unfamiliar with strandedwind.org ?RBM

    Comment by Anonymous | July 28, 2009

  23. Hi RR,Always enjoy reading your blog.I have found some news that seem too optimistic and would like to share it with you.Sorry if someone noted this, before.Fernandohttp://www.ciw.edu/news/hydrocarbons_deep_earthhttp://www.joulebio.com/

    Comment by Fernando | July 28, 2009

  24. Although the USA may be overall the wealthiest nation on Earth, it also has one of widest gaps between rich and poor. Although income redistribution is not the American way, in favor of freedom of opportunity, studies have shown that social mobility is no better than other Western countries, and in some cases worse.So it's a conundrum. Artificially redistributing wealth is unfair, but a free society also apparently leads to an "unfair" distribution of wealth.The aspect of a free society is that consumers get what they want. If clever marketers realise that people like to consume sweet, high calorie foods, who is to say that they must not sell them? If you decide the state has no business interfering in such choices, then you have to accept that many people will end up making bad choices. That is their right.

    Comment by bc | July 28, 2009

  25. Why would we need to drill to the center of the earth for methane when it is just under the ocean floor? Isn't that what Japan is going to attempt to do in 2012?? Personally, it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

    Comment by Anonymous | July 28, 2009

  26. I don't believe the part about poor people not being able to afford "Good" food. I can feed myself on meat, potatoes, vegetable, fruits, milk, and eggs, easily, for $25.00/wk.Quite often, I find myself standing behind some very obese woman in the check-out line that's paying for two or more carts of sweetened products with a "state" card.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  27. You are unfamiliar with Stranded Wind?RBM,Not anymore. Thanks.

    Comment by Laramie Jordan | July 28, 2009

  28. "Why would we need to drill to the center of the earth for methane when it is just under the ocean floor? Personally, it sounds like a disaster waiting to happen."Don't worry. The poor return on investment of drilling a hole 90 or more miles deep — not to mention the extreme logistics and physical difficulty of doing it — mean this is unlikely to ever happen. Still, it does sound rather like an interesting Jules Verne novel doesn't it?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | July 28, 2009

  29. Yes, I miss your point about the lobster entirely, even with the re-edit. What does your not eating lobster twice a week, because you can't afford to, have to with corn? Lobsters don't eat corn, do they? Or are you saying that you and other americans would be healthier if you and they ate corn-free lobsters twice a week? Or are you saying maybe corn should be as expensive as lobster?Do the UK poor at risk of diabetes also eat too much cheap subsidized corn sweeteners from the US or UK?Nixon's policies may have killed the family farm, but Table 7 that Anonymous linked shows food prices as percent of disposable income started dropping steadily after WWII, decades before Nixon took office. I suppose it could have started with the first farm bill in Depression-era 1938.

    Comment by Clee | July 28, 2009

  30. First, it was fertilizers, and better machinery, now it's GM Seeds, and better machinery. Mostly GM Seeds.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  31. What does your not eating lobster twice a week, because you can't afford to, have to with corn?I really don't think this is a difficult point to grasp. People – especially the poor – are going to gravitate to cheap food. When the cheap food is also the unhealthiest, we are set up for big problems. But the policies in place have helped make HFCS a very cheap sweetener, and as such it has found its way into all of our food. This would not have been possible if HFCS was lobster-priced.The moral is simply that we have – with the help of specific farm policies that encouraged overproduction – allowed a potentially very unhealthy food to become predominant throughout our food because it is so cheap.Do the UK poor at risk of diabetes also eat too much cheap subsidized corn sweeteners from the US or UK?My guess is that HFCS has made its way into the UK food system as well. In fact, I just did a little Googling, and that is in fact the case.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  32. This has been an interesting evolution.First, Ethanol was going to "Starve" all those poor people;Now, it's making them "Fat."

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  33. BTW, there, really, are NO "subsidies" for the production of corn, anymore. The "supports" haven't kicked in for several years, now.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  34. Russ,It's not so simple. For those of us who overconsume (I am a bit overweight, but not grossly — yet), its not so simple. After you have been on a diet with high carb foods for a while, only high carbs will do it for you (otherwise, I feel pretty miserable).I have even gone on some of these "extreme" diets like medifast, and I can quickly go back down to my target weight. But the cravings are always there, and as soon as I get off the diet, I am back to overconsuming again.It is currently though that this persistent craving problem is caused by consumption of HFCS. There are gobs of studies out there that seem to correlate the cravings with HFCS consumption. I have consumed lots of HFCS in my life time.Now I have had several people tell me that I need to just contain the cravings. Easier said than done… I have a high stress job, that I otherwise enjoy, but when the heat is on, I can't get things done with those cravings nagging me continuously, so I eat.And gain weight 🙂

    Comment by David | July 28, 2009

  35. "I really don't think this is a difficult point to grasp. People – especially the poor – are going to gravitate to cheap food."RR,There is an excellent scene in the new documentary movie Food,Inc. making your point. The film maker takes a poor, obese family to a food store to show them how to buy healthy food. The point of the scene is that while they can afford to buy burgers, fries, and a giant soda at a fast food joint, they can't afford to buy broccoli, carrots, whole-wheat bread, grain-fed beef, etc. Food Inc.Food Inc. trailerAlmost everything they could buy at the fast food joint is a derivative of cheap corn. Many are likening this movie to Upton Sinclair's 1906 book The Jungle. Big Corn hates the movie.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | July 28, 2009

  36. First, Ethanol was going to "Starve" all those poor people;"Rufus," I think you are tipping your hand a bit here. We aren't talking about ethanol. Tell me something. Who do you post as at The Oil Drum? Because I know you post there. Just want to hear it from you.Thanks, RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  37. rufus, we still have billions of dollars of corn subsidies every year.http://farm.ewg.org/farm/progdetail.php?fips=00000&progcode=corn

    Comment by Anonymous | July 28, 2009

  38. OT, but since TOD was mentioned, here is a laff-and-a-half:A poster named Shunyata quits TOD:I am not paid to post and do not represent any interest other than my own. Over the last year or so this forum has degenerated into an ossified collection of beliefs and predispositions. It used to be a vibrant colloqium for sharing personal research (some of those articles were brilliant pieces of thought and research), for challenging beliefs, and for exploring new possibilities. Now you either accept that the world is ending in generally accepted ways or you take it on the chin.Perhaps I am simply thin-skinned, but I no longer have any interest in participating in this forum. Symbolically, and perhaps melodramatically, I request that my log-on priveleges be revoked and that my personal membership information no longer be maintained by this site. I am quite serious about the latter point, however. I no longer wish to be affiliated with The Oil Drum.Regards,ShunyataGail the Enforcer replies: I have known Shunyata since before he began posting on The Oil Drum. I am sure he has no issues of personal gain. He has done several guest posts including Monetary Policy and Weaseling Out of Debt, nearly two years ago.We try to keep a balance of posts on The Oil Drum, probably tending more toward doomer than techno-cornucopian. We have been trying to stay away from discussing the scientific basis of AGW in our posts, because we do not have technical expertise to address the issue properly, on either the pro or con side.On Drumbeat, we get whatever mix we get. That changes over time. If you as a poster think the mix should be more in the direction of what you believe, then it makes sense to make appropriately referenced posts in the direction you consider appropriate.That's funny–I have been repeatedly banned from TOD, for spouting my (so far vindicated) views that we are not terribly short on oil, or anything else. And just try posting on the epic natural gas bonanza–a friend of mine just got the boot for doing so. "Balance"?????????????I still contend something smells very bad in TOD. They are getting money from somewhere..and see today the CFTC announcing they do thnk the NYMEX is being gamed…..

    Comment by Benny "Boom, No Doom" Cole | July 28, 2009

  39. RR, I stated, when I made my first post on your blog, that I was your "Old Friend from the Oil Drum," Kdolliso. I explained that I had had a "blogspot" account under the name Rufus since approx 2005. I assumed you read that.I was upfront with you, and the other readers, from the start.Oh, and "Kdolliso" is Blocked at the Oil Drum. I don't think it was so much my pro-ethanol postings, as my AGW "Denialism."

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  40. Oh, and the reason I used "Kdolliso" at the Drum was that I had tried to register as "Rufus," previously, and lost the E-Mail verification. As a result, when I tried to use "Rufus" the second time I was told that that moniker was taken.There was no subterfuge. I put it right out in the open on my very first day of posting here.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  41. Anonymous, your link doesn't work.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  42. “I really don't think this is a difficult point to grasp. People – especially the poor – are going to gravitate to cheap food.”Huh!I find this statement very offensive. How much HFCS is in bean and rice? How about spaghetti? Chili? Oatmeal? Grits? Soup from leftovers? Green beans? Cauliflower? Ice tee? Tap water?The fact is food with HFCS is more expensive than than good nutritional food. I must admit that I do not know much about being poor. I do know a lot about living well without of lot of money.

    Comment by Kit P | July 28, 2009

  43. That's interesting on multiple counts, kdolliso/rufus. I didn't recall you saying that, but I take your word for it. Second, I didn't know you had been banned from TOD. Funny how that happens. Someone just stops posting, and I never knew what happened to them. There is never an announcement of any kind when someone gets banned. People just vanish. Sort of like the mafia.I had just recently happened upon some of your outrageous tales over at Planet E85. You know, the ones where I called you nuts for the paper you posted on higher efficiency ethanol engines. False. I also liked the one where you claimed I am "shameless about using any old anecdote to "win' a debate." Coming from ole kdolliso, that is a classic case of projection. I mean, you were the guy famous for posting any old "study" that was pro-ethanol, while rejecting anything – even from Science – that was anti-ethanol.Me? I think I have consistently been quite objective. I posted balanced stories before I ever encountered you. I have yet to see you post anything balanced, or admit that there are any negative issues from our ethanol policies.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  44. I find this statement very offensive.It isn't a statement so much as a fact. Study after study backs this up. So be offended all you want. It is what it is.Of course it is possible to eat more healthy foods for not a lot of money. They usually take more work, and people grab what's cheap and fast. Personally, I ate a lot of grits in grad school, and I did quit a bit of research into how to feed myself for the least amount of money.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  45. Rufus the link is to EWG. Not a very reliable source of information.

    Comment by Kit P | July 28, 2009

  46. Good, nutritious food is extremely cheap. I can make a wonderful pot of Beef Stew with potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and chili peppers that will feed a family of four for, almost, a week for about $13.00.Add in a couple of gallons of milk, some bacon, and eggs for breakfast, and some cornbread mix, and I'm still not over $25.00.I think "poor" (also, known as under-educated) people buy sweet food because it tastes good, and they can afford it.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  47. your link doesn't work.I pasted it into my browser and it worked. So I fixed it for our anonymous poster, who appears to be correct unless I am misreading what I am seeing.Corn Subsidies in the U.S.Actually I have seen that before. The data on that table only go through 2006, but we made a lot of ethanol in 2006 and there were still subsidies according to that link.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  48. A lot of "generalizing," ad homming going on, there, RR. Any examples?

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  49. We are all about facts here, Kit. What specifically makes that source unreliable? I know you like to throw out claims without any evidence, but I would like to see some. Hey, you may be right. But given your history here, you will have to show me.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  50. A lot of "generalizing," ad homming going on, there, RR. Any examples?Generalizing? I am just quoting what you wrote over there. Examples? Surely you jest. Given that you boasted to your buddies that your objective is to "keep me occupied" responding to all of your BS, you don't have to worry about me doing that any more. That game got stale a long time ago: You make a claim, say you never said it (or say I said something I never did), then ask for proof. We aren't playing that game here.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 28, 2009

  51. I think there's a good reason why they cut it off at 2006, even though it was published in 2008.If you'll notice, even in 2006 corn subsidies had Dropped by $4 Billion, Four Hundred Million.If you'll remember, ethanol production really started to ramp up in 2007 with passage in January of the 2007 RFS.The fact is we have NOT paid price supports on corn since, I believe, 2007.

    Comment by rufus | July 28, 2009

  52. Corn, itself, is a very nutritious food. It's been the staple of diets "South of the Border" for Centuries. Heck, Mexico, essentially, "Lives" on Corn, and Beans. They ARE NOT undernourished.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  53. If you'll notice, even in 2006 corn subsidies had Dropped by $4 Billion, Four Hundred Million.After rising by $5 billion the year before. Yep, that's the kdolliso I remember. Shameless at cherry-picking data to support his point.Corn, itself, is a very nutritious food. It's been the staple of diets "South of the Border" for Centuries.What they are growing in the Midwest is not what they have grown in Mexico for centuries.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 29, 2009

  54. while rejecting anything – even from Science – that was anti-ethanol.Especially, anything from Science. I have, absolutely, NO respect for the Journal "Science."Specifically, you are, of course, referring to the highly dubious article by the Lawyer/Advocate, Searchinger that tried to tie "Deforestation in the Amazon," to Corn Planting in the U.S.It was silly, and, I DID call "Horsehockey," virtually, the day after publication.He did what that article on corn subsidies did; ie, it cut off recent data (specifically, data that showed soybean planting in the Cerrado was OFF by 5 Million Acres in the last Five Years. From 58 Million Acres in 2003 to 53 Million Acres in 2008.)The article was just a string of "could be's," "Maybe's," possiblies," and "might be's."Even the heavily, oil-influenced CARB, finally, had to admit that they needed to take another look at That.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  55. kdolliso/rufus. I didn't recall you saying that, but I take your word for it.Beyond taking his word, you can see for yourself.http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2009/03/valero-now-in-ethanol-business.html#7263199080883175612

    Comment by Clee | July 29, 2009

  56. From the same outfit:Still at $56 Billion.As of April, 2008, it seems.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  57. While cheap food has its downside I also remind myself that we only have to go back to photographs from our grandparent's time to see the effect of diseases of malnutrition — rickets and pellagra in Europe and the US, and beriberi and kwashiorkor in Asia and Africa. Cheap food has its problems, but lets not forget how bad no food is.Rufus: "Good, nutritious food is extremely cheap… I can make a wonderful pot of Beef Stew … that will feed a family of four for, almost, a week for about $13.00.I thought yout must be joking … then I checked prices in "ShopRite from Home" and picked a store in Staten Island, NY, which I'm fairly sure is not the cheapest of places in the US. The most expensive beef I could find was about half the price I could buy it for here in Ireland. The cheapest was about a quarter of the price of the cheapest here.To be honest, for US$25, I would be struggling to feed just myself for one day, let alone a family for a week. Purchasing power parity is a funny old thing.

    Comment by PeteS | July 29, 2009

  58. The Mexicans make their tortillas from White Sweet Corn. We started exporting our white sweet corn to Mexico in Jan, 2008. That's when their protection under NAFTA ended.Prices of corn, immediately, dropped in Mexico, and the farmers started protesting.If you'll remember, it was the summer of 2007 that the price of tortillas went Up in Mexico, and the ill-informed started protesting that "ethanol" was driving up the cost of tortillas (even though, ethanol is made from Yellow Field Corn, not white sweet corn.And, NO, the two are in no way, interchangeable. It's two entirely different farming techniques, on two different types of farms.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  59. Pete, I usually spend about $5.50 on stew meat for my beef stew. That gives you several nice pieces in a serving, and, of course, adds plenty of flavor to the potatoes, carrots, and soup.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  60. rufus writes:I think there's a good reason why they cut it off at 2006, even though it was published in 2008.How about the Congressional Budget Office as a source?http://www.cbo.gov/budget/factsheets/2009b/ccc.pdfIf I'm reading page 5 correctly, for FY2008 Commodity Credit Corporation Direct Cash Payments for the Corn price support program was $1.95 billion.

    Comment by Clee | July 29, 2009

  61. Btw, pellagra is a deficiency of niacin (vitamin B3) and was epidemic in the south eastern US in the early 20th century due to the high corn diet and poverty. Apparently Mexicans didn't suffer the same malnutrition because they soaked their corn in lime before cooking, which releases niacin which is otherwise bound up in a form unavailable to human digestion.

    Comment by PeteS | July 29, 2009

  62. I imagine the farmers got a little "excited" by the ethanol story in 2005, and planted a lot more corn than was needed. Also, If I'm not mistaken, that was the year we set the record on "yield."But, I would think the takeaway would be that in 2005 the taxpayers were paying farmers $9 Billion to grow corn, and now, we're not. Sounds pretty cool, to me.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  63. Clee, Excellent find. Thank you.It, actually, looks like about $1.86 Billion, bottom line; but I'm not for sure, either.I'm a little surprised there were Any payments, but if the $1.95 (or, $1.86) is correct it's a heck of a lot better than $9 Billion.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  64. Robert,You've have an awful lot of patience for some of these folks. I'm not sure I'd have the energy to keep up the debate.SamG

    Comment by SamG | July 29, 2009

  65. I'm still trying to figure out: "What is the Debate?"It used to be that, "High Corn Prices are Bad."Is it, now, that, "Low Corn Prices are Bad?"I'm Confused.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  66. "Good, nutritious food is extremely cheap. I can make a wonderful pot of Beef Stew with potatoes, carrots, celery, tomatoes, and chili peppers that will feed a family of four for, almost, a week for about $13.00."rufus,I think you don't understand real poverty. Try making your week-long beef stew without cooking utensils, electricity or gas, and without a place to store the remaining stew without it being stolen or ruined.Now try making something you've never been shown (say, a violin), in the same circumstances.Get the picture? Poverty is not just "having little money."Food can be cheap, IF you have property, security, and some knowledge.

    Comment by Greg | July 29, 2009

  67. Greg, my point is that, "if you're an American, Food is cheap."I understand that for many people in Uganda, and Mozambique, food isn't cheap.There are, virtually, no Americans without access to electricity, cooking utinsals, refrigeration, or State Aid to gain access to the same.As for the Ugandans, I feel sorry for them, but, they really have more of a "Governance" problem than anything else (at least, it seems that way to me.)

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  68. Anyway, that wasn't really the debate, anyway. The hypothesis was that "poor" people ate foods high in HFCS because it was cheaper than nutritious food.I just don't believe that's the case. When my kids go to the store they buy a lot of sugary cereals, soft drinks, cakes, etc.When my wife goes to the store (she's Korean) she buys some meat for bugogi, onions, turnips, some assorted greens you don't want to hear about, and spends about 1/4 as much.When I go to the store I buy fish, whole chicken (about $0.95/lb,) potatoes, bananas, peaches, or apples, vegetables, and coffee. I probably eat like a King compared to a lot of the people of the World, including Americans, and I don't spend much doing it.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  69. There are, virtually, no Americans without access to electricity, cooking utinsals, refrigeration, or State Aid to gain access to the same.There are thousands of Americans who live on social security or disability or minimum wage living in SROs (Single Room Occupancy) that don’t have kitchen facilities and storing food is a problem because of vermin. I’ve seen a couple while volunteering for a legal aid organization. There are also thousands living in neighborhoods without grocery stores and the local markets carry very few fresh foods. So if you don’t access to a car (and if the neighborhood is so poor that the grocery stores don’t want to locate there the chances are greater than usual) your food choices are limited. I use to work in such a neighborhood for a startup wanting very cheap rent.Or living in tentshttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1159677/Pictured-The-credit-crunch-tent-city-returned-haunt-America.htmlHaving said that even most poor Americans could purchase and cook all the, oranges, onions, broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, zucchini, apples, orages they could eat for a couple of dollars a day. Of course they still need a couple of thousand calories and so the proper comparison isn’t between junk food vs vegetables, but junk food vs grains and legumes. Grains and legumes are cheaper at about one or two dollars a day. And of course water even bottle water is cheaper than soft drinks.

    Comment by sort_of_knowledgable | July 29, 2009

  70. It isn't corn subsidies that make sugar uncompetitive with HFCS. Rather,it's the sugar tariffs and import quotas. For the same reason,we use corn for ethanol instead of sugar cane."While USDA bureaucrats worked overtime to minutely regulate the quantity of sugar allowed into the United States, a bomb went off that destroyed their best-laid plans. On November 6, 1984, both Coca Cola and Pepsi announced plans to stop using sugar in soft drinks, replacing it with high-fructose corn syrup. At the drop of two press releases, U.S. sugar consumption decreased by more than 500,000 tons a year — equal to the entire quotas of 25 of the 42 nations allowed to sell sugar to the United States. The quota program drove sugar prices so high that it wrecked the market for sugar — and thereby destroyed the government's ability to control sugar supply and demand. On January 16, 1985, Agriculture Secretary John Block announced an effective 20 percent cut in the quota for all exporting countries." http://www.fff.org/freedom/0498d.asp

    Comment by Maury | July 29, 2009

  71. Yeah,poor people could eat healthier. But,they don't. Using that argument is a bit like saying Americans could ride bicycles everywhere,so there must not be a fuel problem.

    Comment by Maury | July 29, 2009

  72. Using that argument is a bit like saying Americans could ride bicycles everywhere,so there must not be a fuel problem.Spot on. That's exactly what it's like. Some people love to say "That argument is invalid, because I do it a different way." I learned a long time ago not to generalize my personal experience too broadly.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 29, 2009

  73. I'm still trying to figure out: "What is the Debate?"That was quite clear when you slipped into your "Ethanol is good" mantra from your first response. This argument wasn't about ethanol. It was about farm policy. However, a big factor in our ethanol policy was to help provide a market for farmers after the overproduction which was encouraged by certain changes to farm policy. So our farm policies have led to our ethanol policies.Food production is a pretty important issue. I think it is very important to keep a wide diversity of farms viable and not outsource our food supply. We need to be able to feed ourselves. Policies that encourage overproduction of a crop that takes its toll on the soil – only to then scramble to find outlets for that overproduction – some of them quite unhealthy – is the issue.Given that I am strongly opposed to outsourcing our food supply, I am not generally opposed to farm subsidies in order to keep our farms from having to compete with the lowest cost producer. But how those subsidies are structured can have enormous implications. Personally, rather than overproducing, I would be happy to pay that money and have the soil idled for when there is a true need.That is exactly what I said to the Montana legislature in 2005: Send the farmers a check to keep them in business. It will be far more efficient than what we are trying to do here. (Montana was trying to mandate ethanol to help farmers, but the mandate was far greater than could be provided for by state's entire annual corn crop).I am off to Houston for a couple of days, and likely out of contact.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | July 29, 2009

  74. “Policies that encourage overproduction of a crop that takes its toll on the soil ..”“I said to the Montana legislature in 2005:..”I am in favor of crating markets for existing production capabilities using practices that protect the environment. I know of numerous opportunities in eastern Oregon and Washington State. There is also an oil seed crop that can rotate with dry land wheat. Sugar beets also do well in that region. Used oil from producing French fries also makes good biodiesel. Two problems here. French fries may cause obesity and fry oil biodiesel attracts bears in Yellowstone. The latter was a joke told at a Harvesting Clean Energy conference in Boise by a NPS employee.

    Comment by Kit P | July 29, 2009

  75. fry oil biodiesel attracts bears in Yellowstone.:)Dang, it's always, "something."

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  76. Here is an interesting analysis of NGV. Note that many of the same anti-ethanol arguments are applied to NGV.“NGVs should remain exactly where they are now: in a small niche market.”http://www.energypulse.net/centers/article/article_display.cfm?a_id=2109

    Comment by Kit P | July 29, 2009

  77. Sure, Kit. Ethanol is costing them a fortune, right now. They sure don't want NG to come along and cost them another one. We're using over 750,000 Barrels of Ethanol/Day. That's probably costing them the sale of 600,000 barrels of gasoline/day. Over the course of a month that would be 18 Million Barrels of Gasoline. For 2009, they might have missed out on the sale of 120 Million Barrels of Gasoline.Take Those out of inventory, and what do you suppose the price of Gasoline might be?The Last Thing they want to see is Natural Gas Vehicles.

    Comment by rufus | July 29, 2009

  78. RR wrote: "I am strongly opposed to outsourcing our food supply"Most of us would instinctively agree with that, but then …Domestic food supplies depend today on imported fuel, imported fertilizers, imported chemicals, even imported illegal immigrant labor.If the food is grown on US soil with imported inputs, are we just kidding ourselves about not outsourcing our food supplies?And if we really don't want to depend on the kindness of strangers for our food (I don't!), don't we logically have to make sure we are self-sufficient in fuel & chemicals also?

    Comment by Kinuachdrach | July 30, 2009

  79. Yup…Natural gas, bio-fuels, even electricity……All are competitors to gasoline…

    Comment by Anonymous | July 30, 2009

  80. If the food is grown on US soil with imported inputs, are we just kidding ourselves about not outsourcing our food supplies?That's a +10

    Comment by rufus | July 30, 2009

  81. The part the "Doomers" always miss, Kinauchdrach, is that by raising One Extra Acre of Corn, you can produce enough fuel to raise 100 Acres.We've been "conned" for too long.

    Comment by rufus | July 30, 2009

  82. no beef stew recipes here but it's interesting to see the latest from Vinod Khosla. he is fighting the good fighthttp://goinggreen.goingon.com/permalink/post/32913Jim Takchess

    Comment by Anonymous | July 30, 2009

  83. Khosla makes things happen. The "Doomers" whine, but the Khoslas "Change" the World.I'm a fan.

    Comment by rufus | July 30, 2009

  84. Khosla is going to change the world by causing all of the green funding to dry up because he is promoting so many failures. Can you name a real commercial success that he has had? Range Fuels has been good at burning cash, but they are having major issues and are unlikely to be successful. So where is he changing the world? By separating investors from their money?

    Comment by Anonymous | July 30, 2009

  85. Well, I'll Never blame a puppy for "trying."

    Comment by rufus | July 30, 2009

  86. Damn Straight! Another book, Omnivore's dilema(Micheal Pollan) also goes in depth on the corn issue. For some time I just assumed that poor people eat fast food, then I met a high wage guy who drives a late model Convertible BMW to work and to the fast food joint for lunch. I must ask myslef: What the hell is he working for, if not to feed himself? Is the BMW more important then his health? Our culture is so tilted away from what is physically really important: food, clothing, shelter, and water. I've been buying grass fed ground bison lately, probably one of the best things I can do for my country. Remember that our government functions to meet our demands, we operate in a Capitalist society, and that your dollar is your BEST vote.

    Comment by evan | July 30, 2009

  87. Well, the nation is definitely on a diet wrt oil consumption. The EIA just released its revised number for May: 18.2 million barrels per day. To find a leaner May, you have to go back to 1996.

    Comment by Datamunger | July 30, 2009

  88. Oh please spare me! One of the big problems in in the US is that too many have stopped thinking for themselves and they let the liberal press do their thinking for them. Many people like working, like fast food, and like BMWs. There is nothing wrong with these things per se.If you drive a BMW while your children depend on welfare, then it becomes my business as a tax payer.I happen to think that corn fed feedlot is the best choice for America. This is because the environmental impact of producing beef is regulated by the CWA and affordable meat is available all income groups.There is noting wrong with grass fed ground bison that I can think of for a few rich people. Evan you are indeed making a great sacrifice for your country. Next time you see some young kid in uniform see if you can get them to buy you a beer at your local micro brewery. Make sure your beer is organic and HFCS free.

    Comment by Kit P | July 30, 2009

  89. (Energy) Gold from Seawaterhttp://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/desalination-can-the-technology-go-elsewhere/

    Comment by takchess | July 30, 2009

  90. "…by raising One Extra Acre of Corn, you can produce enough fuel to raise 100 Acres."Rufus/Kum Dollison,Please expand on that rather incredible statement. If true, we would have invented a self-perpetuating energy machine. That means that 1 becomes 100; and 100 becomes 10,000 in only two growing cycles. By the third year our initial investment of 1 would have yielded 1,000,000.Are you actually implying a 100:1 return on the energy invested in making corn ethanol, or did I somehow misread what you meant?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | July 31, 2009

  91. It takes about 140 gallons of fuel to raise an acre of corn,which can provide 320 gallons or so of ethanol and about 3000 lbs. of chicken feed. Nowhere close to 1:100,but it's still a good deal imo.

    Comment by Maury | July 31, 2009

  92. Jeez, how many times do I have to repost this? Okay, first off, a little remedial education. Field Corn = Cattle Feed. This is important. You can't understand the debate unless you understand this. About 80% of ALL Corn ends up feeding livestock. Close to 60% of it "American" livestock, mostly cattle, and about 20% exported to feed livestock in other countries.When you produce ethanol you Don't use All the Kernel. You use the starch. You retain the protein, and nutrients in the DDGS.You retain at least 40% of your "cattle-feeding" ability in the DDGS.Thus, you take the Gallons/Acre, and Divide it by .6. You have achieved 450 gallons of ethanol (160 bu X 2.8 gal/bu = 448gallons.) Call it 450. And, you've only used 60% of your Cattle-Feeding ability.Divide 450 by .6 and you get 750 gal/acre of corn Used.It requires between 5, and 7 Gallons of Diesel to farm an acre of corn, depending on method of tillage, type of equipment, etc. The key to correct analysis is You've Gotta Consider the DDGS, remaining. Using these figures, it's easy to see that if you're raising 100 acres of corn, which will primarily be used for cattle feed, you would only have to plant one additional acre to provide the fuel needed for production.Again, You've Gotta Allow for the DDGS

    Comment by rufus | July 31, 2009

  93. Now, admittedly, I'm Not considering the nat gas involved in distilling the corn to ethanol. If I were to do that it would come out closer to 5 Acres, probably.1 pound of DDGS = 8,400 btus, and around 33,000 btus would be required to distill a gallon of ethanol on the farm.If I were going to supply the methane for producing nitrogen fertilizer, it would end up nearer, 9, or 10 total additional acres, needed.

    Comment by rufus | July 31, 2009

  94. "It requires between 5, and 7 Gallons of Diesel to farm an acre of corn"If we're going to grow energy,we need to take all the energy inputs into account Rufus. An acre of corn also requires 120 lbs. of nitrogen,50 lbs. of potash,58 lbs. of phosphate,and 242 lbs. of lime. Several gallons of gas,75 kwh of electricity,and 200 cu. ft. of natural gas also get used. 6 of the 10 studies listed here showed a net positive energy balance for corn ethanol. http://tinyurl.com/5wvzo4

    Comment by Maury | August 1, 2009

  95. Maury, I appreciate your search for the truth, and the fact that you're willing to do research.Let me add this: When studying something as "dynamic" as corn yields you want to make sure that any literature is, literally, "up to the minute." The main reason for this, in relation to corn, is the Seeds. They are "Improving" by the Year. For example, many farmers are using less Nitrogen than ever before. The reason they can do this it, the New Seeds, literally, use almost ALL of the nitrogen available to them. The "old" seeds might have used 60%. I imagine the same applies to potassium, and phosphorous. Some of the new seeds are more tolerant of acidic soil (especially sorghum seeds.) Less liming required. Many of these studies overlook the fact that the "average" farmer gets well over 50% of his income from work "off the farm." To ascribe ALL of his gasoline usage to the corn crop is misleading. Same with electricity, and gas.Of course the distilleries vary WIDELY in their energy efficiency, with most of the less efficient slowly moving (as fast as financing will let them) toward the more efficient equipment, and practices.Of course, the jist of my post was that if "push came to shove" the farmer could add in a few extra acres and produce his own fuel, thus insuring his ability, even in a severely, energy-constrained world, to feed me, and thee.Appreciate the feedback.

    Comment by rufus | August 1, 2009

  96. I would be an ethanol advocate even if the energy balance were negative Rufus. Only about 20% of the energy inputs are liquid. As Benny keeps pointing out,we've got natural gas up the gazoo. But,you're right about improving efficiencies. Yields improve about 2 bushels per acre per year. An acre of corn can provide 320 gallons of ethanol and still feed as many chickens as it did in 1970.

    Comment by Maury | August 1, 2009

  97. Rufus ~ "Okay, first off, a little remedial education. Field Corn = Cattle Feed. This is important. You can't understand the debate unless you understand this. About 80% of ALL Corn ends up feeding livestock."Rufus,And why do we feed corn to cattle, hogs, and poultry? A: So we can eat them, or eat their eggs and milk.Even "field corn" is part of the human food pyramid. You also didn't mention the portion of No. 2 corn (or field corn as you call it) that goes into HFCS, which in turn goes into just about processed food you will find in your local super market.Your being disingenuous by somehow implying that "field corn" isn't something people eat. We don't eat it directly, but we do eat it.Rufus ~ "Of course, the jist of my post was that if "push came to shove" the farmer could add in a few extra acres and produce his own fuel, thus insuring his ability, even in a severely, energy-constrained world, to feed me, and thee."If it's as easy as you imply, then why don't all corn farmers reserve a few of their corn acres to make their own fuel and break their shackles to the fossil fuel companies?Rufus ~ "…it's easy to see that if you're raising 100 acres of corn, which will primarily be used for cattle feed, you would only have to plant one additional acre to provide the fuel needed for production."You cannot be serious! One acre of corn to produce the fuel to grow 100 acres? What about the fuel to dry the corn? What about the fuel/energy needed to produce and transport the seed corn? (Remember, with GM corn, farmers no longer can save a portion of this year's crop to start next year's.) What about the energy to run the farmer's barn, house, computer and the pickup truck he needs to go into town to the bank, co-op and farm implement store?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 1, 2009

  98. I addressed each of those issues in my above comment.

    Comment by rufus | August 1, 2009

  99. Besides, diesel has been cheap (compared to everything else.)I doubt if many farmers actually "want" to go into the "moonshining" business. In fact, I doubt if most farmers even know they legally Could.

    Comment by rufus | August 1, 2009

  100. Rufus ~ "Besides, diesel has been cheap (compared to everything else.)"Rufus,That sir, is the crux of the issue. I have asked several ethanol plant operators and farmers why — if ethanol is such a great fuel, and they would get back more energy than they invested — they don't use ethanol as the source of energy to power their stills and farms instead of diesel fuel and natural gas.The answer I always get is, "Ethanol is too expensive, and we couldn't afford to do that."Of course, the reason ethanol is worth what it's worth is that the natural market value of ethanol has been skewed by rebates, subsidies, tax credits, and protective tariffs.Rufus ~ "I addressed each of those issues in my above comment."Have any of your corn farmer friends whom you've explained this to ever said, "By gum, you're right. Next year I'm going to set five acres of my corn aside to use as fuel to raise the other five hundred?"Farmers being a self-sufficient sort, if it were possible, most of them would have done it by now.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 1, 2009

  101. Aww, that's silly, Mercantile. You don't operate your oil refinery on gasoline; why would you operate your distillery on alcohol.Same with Diesels. If you owe the bank $50,000.00 on your Diesel Tractor, you don't void the warrantee by running it on ethanol. Five years from now when Gasoline, and Diesel are getting in short supply, thus, very expensive there will be many taking a look at it.

    Comment by rufus | August 2, 2009

  102. Aww, that's silly, Mercantile. You don't operate your oil refinery on gasoline; why would you operate your distillery on alcohol.No, you operate it with fuel gas, another by-product of refining the oil. This is his point. Refineries can do this because their by-products don't require a lot of energy inputs to make; they are produced along with the gasoline and diesel.Of course there are times that natural gas prices are so low that they do refine the fuel gas and run the plant on natural gas. But they do go back and forth, and they do generally use their byproducts to run the process.RR

    Comment by Robert Rapier | August 2, 2009

  103. "Aww, that's silly, Mercantile. …why would you operate your distillery on alcohol."That's right Rufus, it is silly. A corn ethanol operation/process could not sustain itself if it tried to operate using some fraction of the fuel it made. If it were possible, both corn farmers and ethanol stills would have long ago started doing it and broken the shackles that bind them to the fossil fuel companies. So why do you keep maintaining it's possible?

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 2, 2009

  104. Rufus said: "I addressed each of those issues in my above comment."Rufus ~You did not address the issue of the role corn plays in the human food chain. Your position has been that corn is "only animal feed."Q: But why do we feed corn to cattle, hogs, and poultry? A: So we can eat them, or eat their eggs, milk, and cheese.Even "field corn" is part of the human food pyramid. You haven't mentioned (or don't know) the portion of No. 2 corn (or field corn as you call it) that goes into HFCS, which in turn goes into just about processed food you will find in your local super market.Your being disingenuous by implying that the "field corn" used to make corn starch ethanol isn't something people eat. We don't eat it directly, but we do eat it.Rufus said: "I doubt if many farmers actually "want" to go into the "moonshining" business. In fact, I doubt if most farmers even know they legally Could."Legal or not, it would make no sense from either an economies of scale perspective or a thermodynamics issue. Think of all the embodied energy and resources that would have to be sunk into each still, if every corn farmer wanted to turn their own corn into fuel. For each corn farmer to set up a still for that one acre of corn would be like every oil well owner setting up an individual refinery to make gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, asphalt, bunker oil, etc.

    Comment by Wendell Mercantile | August 3, 2009

  105. Interesting. I've been meaning to post a review of King Corn for some time now but wanted to watch it again first.I don't know how important it is to save the small family farm (although my perspective would be different if I were a small farmer). You don't see many saddle makers or cobblers around these days.Watching the real farmers in that documentary grow corn, I realized that what they do no longer resembles traditional farming. They sit inside giant air conditioned machines that plow, plant, and harvest a genetically modified monoculture. Their activities are little different from a trucker, backhoe, or crane operator.Low costs drive consumption of everything, not just food. Cars and computers are amazingly affordable when you stand back and look at what you get for your money.The dirt cheap labor provided by the tens of millions of illegal immigrants fueled the housing boom, generating millions of cavernous McMansions as people shot for as much status as they could afford (assuming that larger usually means larger status–think Hummer). This was also the result of government policy (looking the other way in deference to developers).The obesity epidemic isn't well understood yet. Obesity is becoming a problem in many places around the world wherever poverty is reduced to the point that people can afford higher calorie foods. Did the ancient Romans grow obese with growing wealth and little physical labor?Their slaves did everything for them. Slaves have been replaced by oil driven machines. Without oil, and machines, slavery would probably still be with us.With 34 posts to date, Rufus appears to be substituting quantity for quality. The scroll wheel on my mouse is wearing out.

    Comment by Russ Finley | August 3, 2009


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