The editorial, “Biofuel mandates worsen drought’s effect” (Comment & Analysis, Tuesday) makes some dubious assumptions and comes to inaccurate conclusions regarding ethanol production and the food supply. While there is no denying the drought has had a substantial impact on this year’s corn crop, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack has gone on the record to say that year’s yield, while down from record predictions, will still meet our food needs, and that obligated parties have the ability to meet the volume requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
What ethanol critics need in this case is a strong dose of reality. Of the total U.S. crop planted, less than 1 percent is sweet corn. However, more than 99 percent is No. 2 yellow corn, or field corn, the primary use of which is livestock and poultry feed. Just 1.5 percent of that yield is used in actual food production — a minuscule fraction of our yearly corn crop.
The simple reality is the RFS was designed with situations such as this in mind, allowing for flexibility. Already the market has responded — ethanol production has slowed, and we currently have a surplus of nearly 1 billion gallons. Additionally, there are more than 3 billion Renewable Identification Numbers available to ensure obligated parties can meet the volume requirements.
To suggest any meaningful impact on food prices from ethanol production is just hysteria during a time of economic turmoil. Earlier this month, General Mills Chief Executive Ken Powell estimated that food prices would increase by 2 percent to 3 percent, compared to an increase of more than 10 percent last year, noting “consumers should see generally stable prices.”
I find it curious that this editorial said ethanol producers and farmers are engaged in market manipulation when they are simply participating in the free market now, after years of government subsidies keeping corn prices low. We have never, ever run out of corn. Have we run out of cheap corn? Yes. But to attack the free market when it works is downright disingenuous.
President and chief operating officer