Stop raiding the corn crib

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By John Barnhart

Last week our sports editor, Mike Forster, dealt with competitive eating contests and touched on the issue of corn-based ethanol. Mike went on to say that doesn't venture deeply into non-sports issues and stuck to the competitive gluttony contests.

I share Mike's revulsion about the "sport" of competitive eating, however, I don't venture deeply into sports issues. I once tried to watch a baseball game but I zzzzzzz....gnsnorkkh!.....uh? Well, anyway, sporting events, at least baseball and televised pasture pool matches, tend to give me a strong urge to check my eyelids for cracks.

I think I know where Mike would have gone on the corn issue, and he's right. We are raiding the world's corn crib for automotive fuel. Bringing it closer to home, we are raiding Bedford County's corn crib for automotive fuel. Ask any Bedford County farmer who is raising beef cattle what feed prices are doing to him. Even before the floods in the Midwest this year, feed prices were hurting them. In fact last year, Albert Epperly, a local Angus producer, talked to me about the impact that feed prices were having. The primary component of this feed is corn and farmers like Epperly are having to compete with ethanol producers for America's corn crop. Even before floods damaged Iowa's corn crop, it was estimated that ethanol production would consume 20 percent of this year's corn crop.

It's Congress' fault.

Congress set a mandate, a few years ago, on the amount of ethanol that must be blended with gasoline. Then, last year, this mandate was dramatically increased. At the same time, Congress subsidizes the process, so farmers like Epperly get to pay taxes some of which are used to increase his operating costs. There is also a 54-cent-a-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, imposed by you-know-who, which is made from sugar cane instead of corn.

Businesses have a right to set up plants to convert corn to ethanol in order to market it as motor fuel. Agribusinesses growing corn have the right to sell their corn to whomever gives them the best price. That's free-market private enterprise.

What's wrong with the ethanol picture is that the gang of pirates on Capitol Hill have created a vast market distortion via the above mentioned subsidy, mandate and tariff.

As Mike mentioned, this diversion of a food crop to motor fuel is cleaning out the world's corn crib at a time when rising demand and shortages are hiking food prices in countries where a significant increase in food prices can hurt even worse than they do here. There was a lot of heartburn in Mexico last year because of a big increase in tortilla prices. Previously, manufacturers were using American yellow corn. Last year, however, they had to use Mexican white corn, which is more expensive.

You are also seeing higher prices at the grocery store and you can thank the congressmen who voted for the above mentioned ethanol nonsense for part of that. Higher feed costs raise the cost of meat and dairy products.

I've no problem when the government pays for research into alternative fuels. That's a legitimate use of taxpayer money and we all benefit from it. In this case, however, the government is boosting inefficient producers of ethanol while simultaneously protecting them from competing with a more efficient source. In the process, the government is hurting farmers, at least those that aren't growing large amounts of corn, and American consumers. In some areas, this government policy is contributing to the depletion of aquifers ? rather ironic considering that Congress is dominated by greener than thou "Democrats." Producing ethanol from sugar cane is better than producing it from corn. It takes less energy, less water and it doesn't divert a major food crop.

Congress needs to stop this nonsense and let the free market prevail in ethanol. Let the Brazilians make ethanol from sugar cane and let America's corn crop return to (directly or indirectly) feeding people.