A look at facts tells real story about ethanol

This was published in the April 13, 2009, issue of Feedstuffs in response to a Viewpoint by Dennis T. Avery and Alex Avery that was published in the March 30, 2009, issue of that publication. (To view that commentary, which blamed corn/ethanol for the crash of flight 1549 into the Hudson River, click here.)

By Don Hutchens, Nebraska Corn Board

Don Hutchens is a lifelong farmer, former Director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, past Board of Directors of the U.S. Grains Council, member of the National Corn Growers Association’s Ag Industry Council, and Executive Director of the Nebraska Corn Board. The Nebraska Corn Board represents the 26,000 corn producers of Nebraska.

Since it seems Dennis T. Avery has a corner on the market for providing “Viewpoints” to Feedstuffs, that constantly fail to be accurate and frankly downright insulting to agriculture, I feel compelled to defend the industry that provides this country the very food, feed, fiber and fuel we exist on and the very industry that makes publications like Feedstuffs necessary. Remember it was Dennis Avery’s viewpoint that tried to lay the blame for the US Airways jet that had to crash land in the Hudson River on corn farmers and their development of ethanol. He deducted that now that we grow more corn to make ethanol, farmers are leaving more corn in the fields which geese feed on thus causing planes to crash land; his conclusion–it’s the corn farmers fault. It should be easy to see where his creditability lies with me.

Now Avery is at it again, in his March 30th viewpoint “Will future generations be left powerless?” He failed once again to substantiate his claims with common sense or facts. It is amazing to those of us in the corn industry how an educated economist just can’t get the math right. Avery states: “ethanol is already gobbling up 1/3 of our nation’s corn for its 1% energy, and doubling that will redouble food prices.”

I’m just a guy who has grown up around agriculture my whole life; I appreciate the people on the farms and ranches for who they are and what they bring to the table. I believe they take on great risk financially, they are at the mercy of mother nature, the markets, the lender and even to the naysayers that constantly want to bash them for how they farm, how they take care of animals, and what they mean to the social, and economic fabric of our country. People and organizations like Dennis Avery, PETA, HSUS, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association should take greater care before they criticize production agriculture while there mouth is full with the cheapest, most abundant and safest food supply in the world.

For the record, U.S. corn supply (total available) in 2007-08 was 14.3 billion bushels of which 21% was used to supply the ethanol industry, and if you credit back the amount of corn that came back out for distillers grains; then we only used 14.7% of our true corn supply for ethanol alone. If you want to use just the corn production (no carry in) for 2007-08; the U.S. used 23% of the 13.0 billion bushels produced that year, for ethanol, and if you give credit to the distillers grains that comes back out; then we used 16%. I know it was much easier and dramatic for Avery, an economist, to just round up to 33% of nation’s corn crop going to ethanol, but every time I tried that rounding up idea in my math classes it normally got me a wrong answer and a poor grade.

Lastly, Avery wants you to believe that the nation’s corn crop only represents a 1% energy value and that corn to ethanol doubles your food prices. Again let’s get the facts straight or at least give agriculture a little more credit. In 2007-08 the U.S. used 137 billion gallons of gasoline, and we replaced a portion (6.28%) of that with 8.6 billion gallons of ethanol, while ethanol will never replace all the gasoline we use–it’s sure a heck of lot more than the 1% that Avery leads you to believe, and has potential to be much more. Regarding the impact corn/ethanol has on food prices, we shouldn’t waste much time, since a $1 dollar increase n the price of gas has triple the impact on food prices as does a $1 per bushel increase in the price of corn. And, let’s be clear, this idea of corn/ethanol “doubling or redoubling (Avery’s words)” food prices, is nonsense or we would be seeing consumer food prices plummeting. Corn prices, along with most other commodity prices, are anywhere from 30-45% less than their highs of last year and yet food prices for many products have yet to drop.

Again, I assume Avery continues to get ink with Feedstuffs because he is very successful at getting under the skin of many of your readers, me included. Let’s give renewable energy like wind, solar, thermal and biofuels a little more space and credit, or else you will be left with more of what you have always had and that is a growing dependence on foreign oil.

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