Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Robert Bryce is free to make as strong a case against ethanol as he can (“‘Absolute madness’ of biofuels,” Commentary, Feb. 17). However, it’s not clear that he should be free to ignore an aspect of ethanol fuel production that seems to be left out of many discussions.

Distillers’ dried grains are left over from making ethanol. When properly used, they appear to have roughly half the feed value of the original corn. This would mean that from the standpoint of corn as feed for animals, the 4.9 billion bushels cited in the article would be roughly equivalent to a “loss” of feed grain of about 2.5 billion bushels, or 20 percent of the crop, not 40 percent.

Corn yields have been rising steadily for more than 50 years, and even though the number of acres dedicated to corn production has been relatively constant, the total amount of corn produced has been rising. Although the annual corn production varies substantially, production in 2010 was about 25 percent more than in 2000. Clearly, subsidies, mandates and similar government distortions of the corn ethanol market make it almost impossible to assess the true cost of ethanol. However, calling this “absolute madness” seems over the top. It’s not clear that sending some of our fuel money to Iowa and Nebraska rather than Saudi Arabia and Venezuela indicates a mental problem.


Vienna, Va.

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