The future: Food, fuel, feed or price


Drop a pebble in the ag policy pond and the resulting ripples seem to rush over many farmers’ self-interest.
Drop a rock in the deepest ag policy lake, Washington, D.C., and the non-farming wonks there begin searching for solutions to problems that don’t exist.
All the latest. The latest illustration of this curious phenomenon is ethanol, the biggest rock to drop in the U.S. farm pond since the Soviet Union’s 1970s grain-buying spree.
So big and so loud is the ethanol boom that farmers and their Capitol Hill lobbyists now are beginning to worry over what they see as a future fuel-versus-food fight.
The tussle goes like this: If ethanol demand continues to grow at today’s pace, American consumers soon will be forced to choose between corn-based fuel and corn-on-the-cob or corn-fed beef. As such, American farm policy must be redirected now to ensure the nation grows enough corn for fuel, food and feed.
Meeting the need. Keith Collins, chief economist at the USDA, sanctioned this view Sept. 6 when, in testimony before the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, he suggested U.S. farmers need to plant 90 million acres to corn by 2010 – or 10 million more than 2006 – to meet USDA’s projected food, feed, fuel and export demand.
Indeed, Collins said, the grain demand could become so severe that as much as 7 million acres of today’s idled 35-million-acre Conservation Reserve Program may be required to grow corn in just three years.
In the basket. While the prediction surely put smiles on faces at Deere, Monsanto and ADM, farmers should count the ethanol eggs in their basket before accepting USDA and agbiz’s desire to greatly expand that basket.
For example:

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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.