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Ethanol is here and nowPosted Tuesday, February 15, 2011, at 3:54 PM
By MARCIA GORRELL
"It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."
--Franklin D. Roosevelt
Somehow in America we have forgotten that very common sense advice: "Just try something." Or as I was told as a child: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."
With all our instant media, we spend a lot of time fighting over new ideas, theorizing why they won't work, all the while having the same problems and never actually trying or solving anything.
But try, try again is what farmers actually did. Often told to idle acres and plant less because (believe it or not) they were too efficient, they were also told to develop their own markets and new products if they wanted to raise prices.
So they did.
Corn sugar and ethanol are just two of the examples of try, try again for American farmers.
Despite the fact that Henry Ford actually intended for cars to be run on ethanol, saying farmers could make fuel with their extra corn, it was the 1970s before mass ethanol production got started, struggling even then.
Around the turn of the 21st century new technology, climbing oil prices, Mideast unrest, subsidies, mandates, climate change and other factors combined for the perfect storm, finally making ethanol a positive force in the energy industry.
Today, one acre of corn can produce enough ethanol to run a car for some 72,000 miles on E-10.
For every barrel of ethanol produced, 1.2 barrels of petroleum are displaced. One bushel of corn yields 2.8 gallons of ethanol. A typical 40-million gallon ethanol plant creates 32 full-time jobs and generates an additional $1.2 million in tax revenue for a community.
And the most positive point for me is that every time I fill up my E-85 car with 85 percent ethanol I know that 85 percent of what I spend goes to someone in America instead of a country that doesn't like us very much.
Oh yeah, and did I mention how ethanol reduces carbon monoxide emissions by as much as 30 percent? Pretty positive stuff.
Today, right here in mid-Missouri, there are two ethanol plants providing approximately 80 jobs, and countless premiums on corn. That means the money we spend on ethanol stays right here in mid-Missouri.
The people who work there or sell corn there spend their profits right here in mid-Missouri by buying trucks, tractors, grain bins, seed, feed and fertilizer. All those extra revenues get passed on through our community, while the tax money made pays for our bridges, our roads and our schools.
But it seems those positives get overlooked in the ethanol versus some other "energy source we might have some day" debate.
Recently, in the new federal budget debates, I've seen more and more political pundits calling for the $5 billion worth of ethanol subsidies to be cut.
"Let it compete in a free market," they say.
That sounds good in theory, but what free market? When the oil industry owns all the alternatives, it makes it a David versus Goliath scenario. And David had divine intervention ...
For ethanol, there are subsidies, which unknown to the general public don't go to ethanol plants but instead are paid to oil companies to basically "bribe" them to use ethanol over their own products.
As a local plant manager told me, "They don't like our product very much."
In a recent internet search on ethanol, the first website to come up was complaining about the subsidies. Guess who it was run by? Exxon Mobil. One of the very oil companies which now receives $6.2 billion in tax credits from the government. Fair market?
Of course they don't like ethanol. They don't make it. Farmers and small town businesses do. And what large corporation wants to give up even 10 percent of their billion dollar profits -- after all what would the stockholders say?
Now that corn prices are again reaching record levels (by the way, not good for the ethanol industry either) we are hearing the food versus fuel debate again. However, that ignores simple economics, since after adding back in the byproduct left over from production (dried distiller's grain), U.S. ethanol production represents only 3 percent of the increasing global grain supply.
Yes, ethanol did have something to do with corn rising from record lows to over $3 a bushel in early 2000, no doubt. But the recent spike has much more to do with rising demand in China and India, coupled with a drought in Russia, than the ethanol industry which has been running steadily for several years. And don't forget even with record corn prices there is still just 9 cents worth of corn in your morning corn flakes. Or that in the 1990s two hams in the grocery store were selling for more money than family farmers were getting for an entire 250-pound hog sold to the local processing plant.
As a farmer for 26 years and a grocery shopper for the same amount of time, I can tell you first hand, our commodity prices usually have very little to do with actual food prices. (I always wonder why prices for oranges already in the store rise, just because Florida may or may not get frost on their orange trees that day?)
The majority of us agree that we need more American jobs, that we need to be independent of foreign oil, that we need renewable fuels and that we need to clean up our air.
Ethanol does all those things.
However, true to what seems to be our new norm, there are those who'd rather we stick with oil, trying nothing at all, waiting for "this" or "that" which might be better ... someday.
I won't tell you ethanol made from corn is the perfect or the only answer to our energy woes. I'm sure there will be better ideas in the future. But when and if they become available they will benefit because ethanol has already knocked down some of the barriers into the oil market.
But the point is, those new technologies are in the future.
Ethanol is here right now, working in rural America.
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