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By Laura Stec

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About this blog: I've been attracted to food for good and bad reasons for many years. From eating disorder to east coast culinary school, food has been my passion, profession & nemesis. I've been a sugar addict, a 17-year vegetarian, a food and en...  (More)

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Farm Bill and Ethanol (Part 9)

Uploaded: May 7, 2023

You might think ethanol (fuel produced from fermented plant-fiber sugars) is relatively new on the market, but it has powered the people since at least 1826, and was the fuel source for Henry Ford’s model T.

“Taxpayers have been investing in the ethanol industry for decades,” writes Dan Imhoff in chapter 17 of Food Fight, The Citizens Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill, “via corn subsidies, import tariffs, tax credits, loan guarantees, construction cost shares, and gas pump upgrades.” Like the commodities program, ethanol has become another ingrained part of the Farm Bill, “untouchable” because of its stated support for the farming community, the environment, national defense and the gas-buying public. (pg. 130)

Not everyone agrees with that perspective however. Ethanol subsidies have been substantial over the years, ($17 billion from 2005 – 2009 alone) and maybe not the best use of our money. Small increases in fuel efficiency (1.1 mpg) could save the same, or more oil, than what ethanol has been able to achieve. A common-sense approach to driving might also be more cost-effective and better for the environment. Regular oil changes, filter replacements, following the speed limit, and making sure your tires have enough air can have a sizable impact on fuel conservation.

Forget oil, chapter 17 ponders whether we should be making electricity from corn instead. Electric vehicles powered by plant ethanol can go double the distance as cars powered on ethanol.

Current ways of converting corn into ethanol require a good amount of non-renewable coal and natural gas by the farm, used for fertilizer, transportation, irrigation, and other operational needs. Add processing systems into the mix, and it can require two-thirds of a gallon of oil just to make a gallon of ethanol.

If the entire U.S. corn crop was made into ethanol, the yield would supply less than 20% of current demand. (pg. 134)

A quick google search about the pros and cons of ethanol yields a plethora of viewpoints on the subject.

I wonder what yours might be?

Here’s a slice of current Farm Bill news from the Rodale Institute of Pennsylvania:

In preparation for the 2023 Farm Bill, Rodale Institute was invited to speak in front of the House Agricultural Committee in Washington DC, in September. CEO Jeff Moyer provided expert testimony on the importance of soil health and urged lawmakers to prioritize regenerative organic agriculture in the upcoming legislation. Representation in this congressional hearing was a significant milestone for the regenerative organic community, as organic advocates have historically been excluded from policy discussions at the federal level.

- Photo courtesy of LSIC
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Jerry Weinstein, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 7, 2023 at 1:10 pm

Jerry Weinstein is a registered user.

" can require two-thirds of a gallon of oil just to make a gallon of ethanol."

"If the entire U.S. corn crop was made into ethanol, the yield would supply less than 20% of current demand."

* It sounds like ethanol is not a viable fuel source given the requirements to produce it.

That said, if the entire U.S. corn crop was devoted to the production of ethanol, would we still have Fritos, cornmeal, corn oil/sweeteners, and corn flakes?

If not, then gasoline trumps ethanol until the entire American driving population goes EV.

Posted by Miguel Valenzuela, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 7, 2023 at 3:56 pm

Miguel Valenzuela is a registered user.

In some cultures (most notably Hispanic), corn is a staple food source, similar to Asians with rice and Europeans with wheat.

To convert the majority of cultivated corn into ethanol at the expense of cost-effective nutrition and basic subsistence would be a crime against humanity and blatantly racist.

It would be no different than taking all of the rice in China and turning it into an alternative energy source.

Until EVs are priced lower and charging stations as prevalent as gas stations, we will continue to consume corn-based products and drive our gas-powered Honda mini-van.

Posted by Mildred Taylor, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 7, 2023 at 4:36 pm

Mildred Taylor is a registered user.

I read somewhere that it is no longer appropriate to throw rice at weddings, something about it being a waste of food and potentially dangerous to birds.

Curious, if eating rice is dangerous to birds (some say it makes them explode), how come most birds can eat dried corn kernels and if so, why isn't corn substituted for rice?

Is it because tossing corn kernels would be like ball-bearings and some guests might inadvertantly trip on them?

My granddaughter is getting married this summer and has opted for confetti instead of rice. I have heard that at some weddings, flower petals are also used.

If it were my call, I would give each guest a Monarch butterfly to release in the air.

This gesture was used at my great-aunt's interment at Alta Mesa Cemetary but to the horror of some attendees, a flock of crows swooped down and started eating the butterflies.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown,
on May 8, 2023 at 4:34 pm

Donald is a registered user.

"Current ways of converting corn into ethanol require a good amount of non-renewable coal and natural gas by the farm..."
The key word here is current. The energy mix to produce corn ethanol can be changed. A simple example would be electric tractors instead of diesel.

As far as displacing food production for fuel production, I don't think that is happening. Corn for human consumption has always been a very small percentage of the total. Most is for animal feed. We are producing more corn than ever, and it seems that there is plenty for both food and fuel. The bigger problem, in my mind, is that if corn becomes even more profitable there may be marginal land pressed into production - land that should not be farmed and on which farming can be damaging to the environment because of pollution of streams, etc.

Posted by Brandon Cross, a resident of Stanford,
on May 8, 2023 at 5:28 pm

Brandon Cross is a registered user.

Growing corn also requires a lot of irrigation especially during the early stages and there are all kinds of corn being grown...corn for feed, human consumption, and fuel.

If corn ever becomes a predominant fuel, I imagine that there will be some very wealthy 'corn kings' down in Mexico...they will become the new Rockefellers and Hunts.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown,
on May 9, 2023 at 7:11 am

Donald is a registered user.

Growing corn requires water, but not necessarily irrigation. It is grown all over the midwest using rainfall alone.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 9, 2023 at 9:06 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

In the state of CA HSR has been used to obtain for the state farmland on the HWY 99 corridor. The amount of land owned by individual farmers is shrinking. China is buying farmland in the midwest. So where is the mythical corn going to be farmed? What then needs to happen is that the federal/state must use the land it owns for corn farming. From what I have seen they are incompetent in completion of any large project that requires a Statement of Work and schedule for financing. The end product then needs to be translated to a liquid that can be dispensed by a pump at a station.

Gasoline production in this state is the cleanest available and has a proven track record. All of the contortions to produce energy in totally unprouctive ways is amazing. What is more amazing is that the US is selling it's oil reserves to China.

Posted by HeeHaw, a resident of another community,
on May 9, 2023 at 11:55 am

HeeHaw is a registered user.

Growing yellow/white corn that is (tender and sweet) for humans to consume requires some irrigation or regular watering.

The stuff grown for animal feed requires less water as it is comprised of dried kernels.

Posted by Carlton Benning, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 9, 2023 at 3:10 pm

Carlton Benning is a registered user.

If the corn is going to be ground into masa flour, grits/polenta, or cornmeal, regular watering is less important and the same applies to grain feed.

I am somewhat surprised that this veggie/culinary/eco-minded blog has never made mention of eating cactus which requires minimal rainfall or water. Cactus leaves from the prickly pear can be grilled or thinky-cut and mixed with scrambled eggs.

Growing up in the AZ desert, we learned how to prepare grilled rattlesnake and cactus leaves in Boy Scouts.

I was told that this culinary practice goes back to the early days of the Apaches and settlers during the Mexican colonial period prior to later U.S. westward expansion.

Posted by Carrie Layne, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 9, 2023 at 5:17 pm

Carrie Layne is a registered user.

@Carlton Benning
Cactus has health benefits & is often prepared in the manner you noted.
Web Link

I grew up in New Mexico and my family often drove down to the Sonora Desert in Mexico to harvest peyote. They also looked for a certain wild agave plant (a large succulent) to distill their own mescal.

It was fun growing up in the 1970s and being raised by Deadheads.

Posted by Lillian Waters, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 10, 2023 at 10:42 am

Lillian Waters is a registered user.

Could ethanol be added to surplus grain inventories (rice, wheat, barley, corn etc.) and then incinerated to power steam engines and electric generators?

It would probably be cleaner than burning coal and far more useful than sending to surplus grains to starving 3rd world countries.

Posted by Byron Lange, a resident of Atherton,
on May 11, 2023 at 8:24 am

Byron Lange is a registered user.

It's too bad that fossil fueled vehicles are being phased out. In the case of diesel-powered vehicles, used cooking oil can be blended with diesel fuel for extended range.

With all of the fast-food joints and restaurants in this country, we have an abundant and ongoing supply of fuel additives.

Posted by Jesse Hanley, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 11, 2023 at 9:37 am

Jesse Hanley is a registered user.

Using nuclear fusion as an example, couldn't ignited popcorn be used as an energy source to propel vehicles?

A nichrome-wired heater element could be used to pop the popcorn and the emitted pressure from the popped corn utilized to power the car.

The exhaust would consist of popped kernals and the only potential drawback would be wildlife (birds and squirrels) gathering on the streets and roadways to feed on it. Then again, most birds have wings to fly away and squirrels are pretty nimble.

Posted by Jennifer Lodge, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 11, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Jennifer Lodge is a registered user.

We considered an EV but do not like the idea of sitting atop litium-ion batteries that can overheat or explode.

As a result, we are sticking with gasoline-powered vehicles regardless of any EV mandates later down the road as they will be grandfathered in.

Corn is best utilized as food whether it be humans or livestock.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 11, 2023 at 1:04 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Since the Foodies have taken over the activism role - I suggest the following:
Look to local history and US history of Food products. The SF piers used to be the location in which ships arrived from the islands with many products that cannot be grown in this location. Sugar from the islands, pineapples, bananas, exotic fruit, coffee beans. Likwise the locations on the east coast received sugar from Cuba, bananas, coffee beans, exoctic fruit. That is what was called the Banana Republic. Every major city had piers designated for specific products.
What ends up happening that each product pulls the minerals out of the soil and the location then becomes unproductive.

The banana plantations kept moving, the sugar plantations kept moving. A once great fleet of ships had refrigeration to keep it all okay until it arrived. Baltimore had Dominion Sugar. The building is still there. The workforce and product are not there. The piers now have a sports brand factory and hotel - built by the sports brand people.

All of those people who are marching up from those locations used to work in fields and factories that are no longer there. But you see the products in the market that come from newer growing sites- further away - Africa.

The politics of agriculture are not discussed much in Techie world - except when the techies have outgrown their location because no more minerals (money) are in the location.

The overall ability to process and market any end product has been replaced with HOUSING. The economics of any large scale production are not there.

What you have now that works is gas and oil. It is all there now. In LA it used to bubble up out of the ground - they had to put pumps on to take it out before building on it. They put shopping centers on top - and football stadiums.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown,
on May 11, 2023 at 1:58 pm

Donald is a registered user.

Making ethanol from corn does not eliminate it as a source of animal feed. After extracting the sugar and fermenting it to ethanol there is still all the protein and other nutrients left in the byproduct. It is called distiller's grain, and it is still good animal food, possible even good human food. It has fewer calories because the starches and sugars are gone but there is still lots of good stuff there, and it gets used. Web Link

Posted by Clark Desmond, a resident of another community,
on May 12, 2023 at 7:56 am

Clark Desmond is a registered user.

Overpopulation is the primary cause for global warming and the increased demand for alternative energy sources.

By reducing the global population via the Malthusian Model (e.g. through disease, infant mortality, war, and famine) there will be more available natural resources for those remaining.

Posted by Myron Silvetstein, a resident of Atherton,
on May 12, 2023 at 9:27 am

Myron Silvetstein is a registered user.

Overpopulation is a double-edged sword.
In America we need a steady supply of younger workers (Millennials and Gen Zers) to actively subsidize our nation's entitlement programs, most notably Social Security and Medicare. What happens after Millennials and Gen Zers reach retirement age is up to the subsequent working generations to provide.

In countries such as China, a declining birth rate means fewer younger factory workers and as a result, the manufacturing of consumer goods is now shifting to India which now surpasses China as the most populous nation on Earth.

Unlike the United States, child-labor laws are also less stringent which amounts to a larger labor force in 3rd world and under-developed countries which is a boon for their respective economies. And since the opportunities for amassing great wealth and/or a higher education in these countries is severely limited, having a menial factory job justifies their existence.

The key is reducing overpopulation in the more advanced countries in order to improve the quality of life while encouraging poorer countries to procreate freely thereby ensuring a highly productive and cheap labor force for the global economy.

As for corn, it is not the only game in town.

Posted by Petra Constantin, a resident of another community,
on May 12, 2023 at 10:01 am

Petra Constantin is a registered user.

A high illiteracy rate can also impede a country's ability to advance technologically and make sound voting decisions (if available) nearly impossible

Echoing Mr. Silverstein [sic] this is why many 3rd world countries are much better served by authoritarian dictators rather than commonly elected officials who also lack the ability to govern effectively. Democracy is not for everyone and perhaps best reserved for modern advanced countries.

Given the land mass on Earth, most notably in Russia, China, and Australia, growing corn for fuel or food should not be a problem. It's the cost of refining corn into ethanol that needs further addressing.

Posted by Cecelia Vega, a resident of another community,
on May 12, 2023 at 1:01 pm

Cecelia Vega is a registered user.

Corn is far more useful than wheat or rice and should be given top priority by the USDA.

Imagine 'The Field of Dreams' being built in a rice paddy.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 14, 2023 at 10:27 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Africa is the second biggest contintent on the planet. End to end it has very possibility regarding type of crops. A lot of crops are now shifting there because they have a workforce. But they have a tough political situation with a lot of warfare between the "states".

Posted by Martin Wong, a resident of Menlo Park,
on May 14, 2023 at 12:21 pm

Martin Wong is a registered user.

@Resident 1-Adobe Meadows

The continent of Africa endures many droughts and with global warming, the situation will not get any better agriculturally.

If this was not the case, then why are so many Africans dependent on international food relief?

Posted by Beatrice Miller, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 14, 2023 at 6:09 pm

Beatrice Miller is a registered user.

Corn provides very practical and useful croppage in America...I should know because I grew up on a farm in Iowa.

When young, corn is a vegetable and later it can become a grain for animal feed and grits.

And the husks are also useful as toilet paper when you run out. We also used cut-up newspapers as we had several moveable outhouses on our patent's parcel of land (640 acres).

Posted by Beatrice Miller, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on May 14, 2023 at 6:10 pm

Beatrice Miller is a registered user.

patent's > parent's

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 16, 2023 at 10:55 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Africa is a very complicated continent. It has massive water capability in major rivers that individual "states' are trying to dam up to create hydropower. Mr. Pillow tells you that his pillows are using materials grown in a specific region - the best in the world.

A NYT Author has written of the way athletic stars are groomed to come to the US through a lot of international tournaments.

The continent has major religious issues which drive the politics, and tribal desires. You saw that depicted in the original Black Panther movie.

Many forests are being torn down to create growing regions which is adding to global warming. - Same in South America.

Mr. Wong is pointing at the ability for a "state" to govern itself. We see much the same in the Asian countries which are very busy right now, No lack of people trying to monetize any area in the world and work to that end - feeding their people.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 17, 2023 at 8:53 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Wall Street Journal - 05/16/23 -" El Nino Climate Pattern Threatens to Scramble Commodies Market." For all of the Foodies great article which articulates the Commodies Market relative to Corn, Sugar, Soybeans, Palm Oil, etc. This is a global picture which discusses the Futures Market which assumes that a crop will grow and be sold. What is happening is drought followed by extensive rain and flooding. El Nino, and La Nina collectively affect what is grown and where it is grown.

In CA we have not kept the control of water up to date leaving us in desperation in Salinas when extensive flooding ruin a town and growing area. Lake Tulare has blocked out a growing region. Other crops are wallowing in flooded areas. Locations have to think and plan ahead of planting of how all the controls on conditions will be executed.

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