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