Comment: Food versus fuel ‘debate’ falls apart

Source: By Ryan Buck, Minneapolis Star Tribune   • Posted: Monday, September 22, 2014

One of the most frustrating criticisms corn farmers face is the contention that we should be growing corn strictly for food, not ethanol fuel.

Our critics frame the debate as food vs. fuel, and completely disregard the facts when unfairly blaming ethanol for taking food off people’s plates and raising food prices.

Yes, food prices have increased, about $1 per family member for a family of four on top of the average consumer price inflation since 2005. But as a World Bank study showed, those increases are because of the cost of oil, not using corn to make ethanol.

In reality, the presence of ethanol in our gasoline is saving that same family of four about $863 annually at the pump, according to the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development.

Given these facts, it makes me wonder why the food vs. fuel debate still has any credibility.

Classifying food vs. fuel as a debate gives it more credit than it deserves. It’s actually a myth manufactured by the oil industry and trumpeted by anti-ethanol zealots, some of whom want to return to the days of $1.50 corn out of pure selfishness.

Corn farmers are projected to harvest a record crop of more than 14 billion bushels this fall. That’s more than enough corn to provide food, feed, fiber and fuel, with some left over.

Despite what the food vs. fuel naysayers will tell you, we’ve been growing enough corn to feed people and fuel our vehicles for a while now. And we’re not taking food off someone’s plate to do it.

For every bushel of corn used to make ethanol, we get 2.8 gallons of fuel and 18 pounds of dried distillers grains, a high-protein livestock feed.

Corn price lowest in years

Today, corn is marketing for less than $4 per bushel, the lowest it’s been since the Renewable Fuel Standard — legislation that sets targets for the amount of ethanol blended in our gasoline — was passed in its current form in 2007.

Most Minnesota corn farmers are just hoping to break even this year. Have you noticed food prices decreasing? I haven’t either.

There are many factors beyond corn prices that influence what you pay for food (and ethanol isn’t one of them). A new report by the Renewable Fuels Association found that even though corn prices have plunged 50 percent since their peak in 2008, food prices have stayed the same or gone up.

Farmers only get about 16 cents for every $1 consumers spend on food. Like any good business, corn farmers looked for new uses and ways to add value to their product. We understood that livestock feed was and always will be our most important market, but we also knew there were other value-added opportunities for corn. It was important that we capitalized on them.

Because consumers were looking for homegrown, less expensive and cleaner burning options at the pump, we seized the ethanol opportunity. That foresight has helped corn farmers better withstand downturns in corn prices like what we’re experiencing this year.

Despite what the doubters say, we grow more than enough corn for food and fuel. Often, we persevere through challenging weather conditions and other obstacles to do it.

The result is food for a growing world population, a homegrown, cleaner-burning fuel for our vehicles and savings at the pump for ­consumers.

About the author Ryan Buck is a corn and soybean farmer in Goodhue and president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.