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The Inconvenient Truth About Ethanol

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  • daysailerdaysailer Posts: 711
    Interesting. So if we actually have excess corn production capacity, we would be better served to return the land to forest, that is, if trees will grow in soil exhausted by decades of mono-culture farming.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    A good example of that is IOWA the number one CORN growing state. It was one huge hardwood forest before the farmers started clearing for crops. It is now over 95% cleared crop land. One small example of the nature of farming for fuel. It is not just the USA. Brazil has cleared millions of acres of rain forest to grow sugar for ethanol. It is a better crop than corn. Still not environmentally good. The burn-off every two years at harvest is a real pollution problem for Brazil.

    Surprisingly it is the USA that is planting new hardwood forest in Brazil. We are installing a hardwood that is eco-friendly, LYPTUS. Great new hybrid that is twice as hard as the hardest Maple.
  • zachinmizachinmi Posts: 228
    FYI - US farming practices don't "exhaust the soil" like you're describing. Yields wouldn't stay high if they did. That's why fertilizer of all kinds is huge business in North America. And anyway, trees will generally grow in poorer soil than most crops will.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    I'm not sure of your point. Yes they can grow crops year after year without rotation, if given enough fertilizer. The fertilizer of choice for corn is made from fossil fuel. That somewhat negates the eco-friendly aspects of corn ethanol. If trees will grow in poor soil they should and have done great in rich soil. Without the need to pollute the land with fertilizers. We need crops for food. So far they have not made a good case for ethanol from corn. Other than making the mega farmers, Verasun & ADM filthy rich.
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,609
    And the fertilizer runoff is the primary cause of the Gulf of Mexico 'dead zone', a region of depleted oxygen near the mouth of the Mississippi.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    That has been my major complaint from the outset of ethanol hysteria.
  • nascar57nascar57 Posts: 47
    The farming practices in the United States are not anywhere near as bad as you say. Just in the last 10 years we have seen a major shift to a more no-till type operation. If you have that happening it greatly reduces the runoff and the soil erosion that carries the fertilizers away. The main source of fertlizer for corn right now is urea which is derived from natural gas. Its not that farmers are pushing more fertlizer to the crops, its the fact that the new corn varieties are getting so much better. In 5 years there will be corn that sets nodules on its roots. You may ask what that is, it is the same thing that a soybean plant does, as the plant is growing it actually puts nitrogen INTO the soil, which really lowers the fertlizer need the following year. And this ethanol deal is NOT just making the ADM's and Verisuns rich, go talk to every farmer in this country and the higher prices we are receiving for all commodities are a result of biofuels. It is about time the American farmer starts to get a little bit more for his product. It is just like asking you big city folks if you would work today for the exact same wage that you got in 1990??? I think alot of you would be pretty tick'd about that.
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 5,893
    I live in farming country and practices have certainly changed over the years. I'm working on a blog entry about ethanol and farming and cars and all that, just gathering some interesting factoids before I write it up for the Alternate Route :shades:

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  • jd10013jd10013 Posts: 779
    one thing people tend to forget is, the aquifer (Ogallala) that the mid west farmers draw water from (about a trillion gallons per year) is estimated to be 60-80% depleted. in most areas, the rate of extraction is 100x the rate of replenisment. When the farmers finally crack it, one dry year (which isn't uncommon in the midwest) and we've got another 30's style dust bowl.

    any report on US farming should include the potential loss of that vital water source. currently, the feds do not regulate its use at all, and it took the glaciers that also created the great lakes to create it.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    I am curious. How will the heavy rains and flooding in the upper MidWest affect that aquifer? Does the flooding run off too quickly to be of much benefit?
  • jd10013jd10013 Posts: 779
    From what I understand, and I haven't reasearched it extensivly but I do know a little about it, is yes, the heavy rains will mostly run off. they'll end up in the misori and mississippi rivers, then the gulf. The aquifer does get replenished some through rains and so on, but the problem is that the water is being drawn from it (totaly unregulated) at rates vastly in excess of the rate at which rains and such can replenish it. As I said before, it took the melting of the last glaciers to create it. well, to fill it. the ground structure to hold it was created when the rockies formed; if I remeber correctly.

    But, the point remains, the farmers are draining it at alarming rates. because of this, it is monitored. even if its not regulated. on average, the water table is dropping at a rate of about 5ft per year.
  • daysailerdaysailer Posts: 711
    Nay, nay, Industrial farming does indeed exhaust the soil! That is WHY it requires the constant addition of synthetic fertilizer in order to grow anything. The soil becomes merely a medium in which to process foreign materials to produce a crop, which itself is artificially "engineered" and foreign to its environment. Such crops, lacking natural resistance to the risks of their environment also require the use of pesticide, fungicide and herbicide which along, with the fertilizer, wash for thousands of miles leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. (rant off).
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 5,893
    Trying to sort through all the noise on this issue is making my head spin :confuse: , so I contacted a friend of mine who's a professor of agronomy and is much better informed than I about the facts and figures.
    His reply to my questions makes for interesting reading. Check it out on today's entry on my blog, the Alternate Route

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  • texasestexases Posts: 5,609
    His reply is OK, but still a bit self-serving. Equating the economic impact of a 50% increase in corn prices and lesser impacts to other grains to the effect on a box of corn flakes is nonsense. Grains are present in a huge portion of our economy, sometimes in ways that are hard to see.
  • PF_FlyerPF_Flyer Pennsylvania Furnace, PAPosts: 5,893
    I'll definitely follow up with him on this stuff for a future blog entry.

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  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    I might add the economics could be much worse for all the other crops that corn will displace. My last trip through the Imperial Valley was amazing. I have never seen them growing corn until this summer. Many fields that are usually lettuce, tomatoes or cotton, were in corn.

    You are right about corn in everything. Pick up any processed food from Coke to Cookies and that nasty "High Fructose Corn Syrup" is usually number one on the list of ingredients.
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,609
    I hadn't thought about the non-grain impact. Take a look at this month's Scientific American. It's all about nutrition, and more to the point, how fat the world is becoming. One proposal is to lessen, rather than increase, the subsidies all grains receive, and replace them with subsidies for vegetables and fruits, to encourage healthy diets. The high costs of vegetables and fruits creates a built in incentive to eat poorly. Ethanol and its consequences are making things worse if vegetable and fruit farm land is now being planted in grains.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    Good information and interesting read, but while he down played the effects of ethanol production on the increase in food prices (meats, chicken, etc.) my wallet is telling me a different story every time we go to the grocery store and Costco.
    Thank you for seeking and sharing this information. BTW, Mr. O’Dell never called me.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    Not to mention the cutting down of Agave fields in Mexico to grow corn. They can no longer afford our high priced corn for tortillas. So we lose our source of good tequila. NOW THAT IS INCONVENIENT!
  • texasestexases Posts: 5,609
    And think about all those margarita machine manufacturers...
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    The far reaching ramifications of our ethanol boondoggle, boggles the mind.... :sick:

    What will life be like without tacos and margaritas? People will be sniffing their exhaust to get a buzz....
  • ateixeiraateixeira Posts: 72,587
    Now that's where I draw the line... :D
  • nascar57nascar57 Posts: 47
    Did you people ever think that the increased energy prices might have more of an effect on your grocery bill than higher corn prices. Most shippers have upped their rates due to high fuel costs, that has a larger impact on the price of groceries than the increase in corn prices. Corn really isnt that high anymore. Alot of people just cannot look at it from the side of an ag person. And the fact about slashing subsidies on grains, if that were to happen I sure hope you will have fun eating food that is grown in China and like the rest of the chinese stuff, it will probably kill you. Dont EVER wish for our food supply to be outsourced, DONT EVER!
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    There is a much better chance of us being forced to eat food from other countries if all our own cropland is in fuel crops such as corn. The price of eggs has almost doubled this year. That is not from higher fuel prices as they are lower now than last year this time. That is because CORN is the main ingredient in chicken feed. Chicken prices are also much higher this year. So you get your wish.

    Don't expect anyone here to feel sorry for the mega-farmers that have run most of the little guys out of business. I for one, owning a small farm know this whole ethanol business is designed to help BIG business, not the little farmer.
  • jkinzeljkinzel Posts: 735
    I will not disagree that fuel prices have played a part in cost increases for all items, but corn prices have also played a part for food price increases.
    A few pennies for Shell and a few pennies for ADM equal a nickel from my pocket.
    The prices of corn and gasoline have both gone down, yet my grocery bill remains the same.
  • nascar57nascar57 Posts: 47
    Gagrice just because you went broke farming doesnt mean that other small farmers all disappeared. Im from North Dakota, and there are no big mega-farms in this state. The state average size of a farm is 1500-2000 acres. EVERY farmer is benefitting from the higher commodity prices this year brought on by BIO FUELS, What you believe out there in California is totally wrong, come on up to the heartland. Both North Dakota and Minnesota have anti corporate farming laws, so these mega farms arent around my neck of the woods. That professor said it so well, hard to argue with anything he said.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    Hard to argue with the article when so much of the equation is left out. He only mentions the positive aspects for those that are benefitting, yourself included. I fully understand your being in favor of this government giveaway.

    Your idea of a family farm and mine are miles apart. The average farm in my part of Minnesota was about 1/10th your average farm. A big dairy farmer would be planting a section (640 acres). Most were the size of mine 200 acres. Whether you believe it or not there was a time that a family could be supported quite well on 200 acres. With all your mega farmers undercutting the working farmer, it is no wonder so many have gone broke. At least I kept my land and the crops pay the taxes. I am fine with that. It was a good place to raise my kids in the 1970s.

    I don't think people in CA think much about it at all. They don't even realize their mileage has suffered as a result of the ethanol that is added to the gasoline. They just race around like before. Still buying big SUVs and lifted PU trucks.

    One plus, I got a discount on my little 1999 Ranger PU truck because it is Flex Fuel Vehicle. Saved me a few bucks on my insurance. I am thinking of filling it with some HIGH priced E85 ($3.29) before I go for the smog check.... :) It will be worth the 66 cents per gallon hit to see if it is any cleaner with your home brew fuel.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    You being one of the few advocates for corn ethanol on this board, could enhance your position by posting data on this new corn seed. If some company has come up with a hybrid corn that does not need fossil fertilizer, it would go a long ways to making it a positive instead of a negative source of ethanol.

    So far I have not found any links from Google.
  • nascar57nascar57 Posts: 47
    Now I never said anything about corn not needing any fertlizer. They are developing varieties that require LESS fertlizer than the current ones and are able to attain the same yield. Pioneer is just one of the companies working on projects like these. Nitrogen efficiency and high ethanol yield are just two things that will increase the efficiency of this. http://www.pioneer.com/web/site/portal/menuitem.8e36377986a91418bc0c0a03d10093a0- /

    This is a quick overview of what Pioneer has coming, Monsanto and Syngenta have similar things in the pipeline.
  • gagricegagrice San DiegoPosts: 29,028
    I just assumed it was something that was being used presently. Don't you think they kind of got the cart before the horse in the whole ethanol program? We know that ethanol from material such as switchgrass is possible. We know that it is a totally different process than using corn. We know that corn is an inefficient source of ethanol. WHY then are we building all these ethanol plants for corn, with tax payers money, when we know they will be obsolete in a few years? If corn ethanol is a good product, companies like ADM and Verasun should be investing their own dollars in the plants. You see we did this in the 1970s and all we have to show is about 100 outdated production facilities rusting in the Midwest. Looks to me like we are making the same mistake again.

    As far as the seed corn, 10 years is a long time off, we should have a better solution than using corn for ethanol by then.
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