US Drought Renews Debate on Biofuel
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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.
Contributing: Mil Arcega and Steve Baragona