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AGRICULTURE REPORT — December 13, 2002: Corn, Part 2 - 2002-12-02

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Last week, we told about the use of corn to feed cows in the cattle industry. This week we tell about other industrial uses for the crop. For example, corn is the most important sweetener used in the American food industry. Sugars from corn can be found in a huge number of products. One sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, is found in popular drinks and sweet food. It is sweeter than natural sugar and also less costly.

About seventy-percent of corn is starch. Cornstarch is a kind of complex carbohydrate. Cornstarch is added to many foods. It is also used to make paper and many other products. Corn is even used to make explosives.

Surprisingly different substances can be made from corn products. Corn can be processed in one way to make oil for cooking. Processed another way, it can be used to make alcohol. Both alcoholic drinks and industrial alcohol can be made from a mixture of crushed corn.

Corn can even be used as a fuel. The United States Department of Agriculture has supported research on ethanol, a fuel alcohol, for many years. Ethanol can be added to gasoline to make high quality fuel for cars. However, ethanol is more costly than gasoline.

The research agency of the Department of Agriculture continues to look for ways to produce ethanol at a lower cost. The Agricultural Research Service has found a method to continuously produce ethanol more effectively than ever before. Farmers in the central part of the United States support ethanol as a new market for their crop. Yet there are problems with the increasing ethanol market.

Ethanol becomes more useful economically when corn prices and gasoline prices are low. But these conditions reduce profits for the farmers who grow corn and reduce the need for ethanol.

Also, programs to increase the use of ethanol have not been successful in the past. It may be surprising, but the first widely-produced car in America, the Ford Model T, could use ethanol fuel as well as gasoline. Yet ethanol has not been important in America since the end of World War Two.

In many industries, new uses for corn are being found all the time. Corn continues to become more economically important. But, can a crop become too successful? Next week, we will tell about the hidden costs of corn.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter.