April 18, 2014 10:53 UTC

Science & Technology

US Drought Renews Debate on Biofuel

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Competition for corn from ethanol is raising the cost of feeding pigs             Competition for corn from ethanol is raising the cost of feeding pigs
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Competition for corn from ethanol is raising the cost of feeding pigs
Competition for corn from ethanol is raising the cost of feeding pigs

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
 
American officials have sharply reduced their expectations for this year's corn and soybean crops. Farmers in the Midwest are struggling with record heat and the worst drought in many years.
 
The United States is the world's largest producer of corn and soybeans. Last Friday the Agriculture Department predicted that corn production would total 10.8 billion bushels this year. That was down seventeen percent from a prediction made just a month ago. And it was down thirteen percent from last year's level. The average yield per hectare could be the lowest in seventeen years.
 
At the same time, the government predicted that soybean production would be twelve percent lower than last year.
 
The price of maize, which Americans call corn, has hit record levels. Corn is a major part of animal feed, so the price of meat, milk and eggs is also expected to climb.
 
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says average food prices worldwide rose six percent in July. The American drought was a big reason. Gawain Kripke is a food price expert with the anti-hunger group Oxfam America.
 
GAWAIN KRIPKE: "Because the U.S. is such a massive food producer and food exporter, the impacts of a drought in the United States are likely to trickle out all around the world."
 
The situation has renewed the fight between food and fuel. About forty percent of the nation's corn crop goes into making ethanol. The production process leaves some of that in a form that can be fed to animals. Still, at least one-fourth of the American corn crop is now made into fuel.
 
The United States requires that part of its corn crop be used in the production of biofuels. The use of ethanol has grown as government requirements have increased. But the head of the FAO, writing in the Financial Times, called for "an immediate, temporary suspension" of that requirement. Jose Graziano da Silva said more of the American corn production could then be used as food or to feed animals.
 
The American livestock industry is also urging Congress to suspend the law that requires ethanol in gasoline. But corn farmer Alan Bennett says doing that would hurt his town.
 
ALAN BENNETT: "It could bankrupt the ethanol plant. It is a huge deal. This country relies on ethanol for ten percent of its fuel supply.  Ethanol is good for America."
 
The growth of the ethanol industry and competition for corn have been helping parts of rural America that had been shrinking for years.
 
A two thousand five law requires automobile fuel to contain ethanol. This year, about fifty billion liters of ethanol will be added to gasoline. Economists say ethanol is one reason the price of corn is three times what it was before two thousand five.
 
At Quad County Corn Processors in Iowa, plant manager Delayne Johnson says his ethanol plant is helping produce more of America's fuel at home.
 
DELAYNE JOHNSON: "As we have domestically produced products, we have less dependency on the Middle East, where we have obviously spent money trying to defend that area."
 
And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report. I'm Jim Tedder.
 
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Contributing: Mil Arcega and Steve Baragona
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by: Jean
08/20/2012 11:32 PM
We should consider all of the things together, more deeply and more widely including global warming, extreme weather, the price of food and gasoline, the starvation, etc. We've had extending economy for many decades. It might be the time to slow down. We are exhausting our planet. I don't want to enjoy a short period, but to suffer for a long long time. Some people might disagree me. They might think to save our fragile economy is to spend more than ever. I don't know which one is more correct. I'm uneasy to be more and more greedy.


by: Amelia Liu from: China
08/16/2012 12:01 AM
Why the transcripe is not the same as the MP3?


by: FRANZ from: Brazil
08/15/2012 11:50 AM
I think US must study the possibility to use sugar cane. Perhaps transgenic sugar cane for make fuel.


by: charlie peters from: hayward
08/14/2012 8:39 PM
Lots of corn along I-5 south of Sacramento that is reported to use 2000 gal of water to grow corn for 1 gal of ethanol for my gas tank.

Should Governor Brown consider a waiver supported by the UN?

Is fed EPA confused when a Lodi bread baker is taken to fed court to collect $625,000.00 fine for generating ozone from the ethanol made by baking bread while mandating millions of tons in our gas that may be a bigger deal than MTBE to our ground water supply? Do water folks check for ethanol in our drinking water?

Drinking ethanol maybe rated as causing cancer but MTBE never has.

Does ATF audit for the payment of $17 tax of moonshine from the GMO corn fuel ethanol?

Let's see, a 10,000 gal tanker truck can move around a $170,000.00 tax and a reported $0.50 cent process can move fuel grade to food grade.


by: BinhLion from: Quang Tri, Vietnam
08/14/2012 2:58 PM
There is some text which is not read by the reader. Please check this error.


by: Dan from: Queens NY
08/14/2012 1:15 PM
Mr Bennet is obviously too involved to be objective. It would be my wish that ethanol was a wonderful thing but it is in fact a complete loser along with "clean coal". They both belong in the same category as 2 ideas that cause so much ancillary damage that they are both huge environmental and financial disasters. I do feel they were worth a try but they both must be brought to an end so that resources can be can used to fund and expedite better ideas. The first best idea is for everyone to live a little smaller and to live closer to where they work.


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
08/14/2012 4:24 AM
It is reasonable that crops are first considered to feed animals or human in a rainy day like super-drought this year. I heard you Americans have plenty of shale gas which is hopeful to supply major parts of your demand. Way to go the U.S.!!