The truth about ethanol

Corn isn’t the best when it comes to making ethanol, despite what publicity may say.

There’s something Farmer John doesn’t want you to know about. His friends in the corn lobby don’t want you to know either. The secret? Making ethanol from sugar is cheaper and can produce eight times more energy than corn. Chevy ads and E85 publicity would lead you to believe otherwise, but corn isn’t the best when it comes to making ethanol.

A recent article in The New Yorker explains the situation well. Corn is used to produce ethanol because price fixing has made sugar too expensive. This is because domestic sugar farmers have negotiated a guaranteed price for sugar, and it is much higher than corn. Additionally, foreign competition in the sugar market is kept out through tariffs and quotas. This results in high prices in the United States, eliminating sugar as a potential source of alternative energy. We could just import sugar ethanol, but it’s still not cost effective due to a tariff on foreign ethanol. Any changes to the current system meet fierce opposition. Last spring, President George W. Bush tried to remove the tariff on foreign ethanol, but the measure was shot down by politicians from corn ethanol states.

Still, it’s tough to find fault in the push for alternative energy, specifically in the renewable department. The push to become less dependent on foreign oil through tax incentives and other measures is making real progress. Ethanol output has doubled in the last three years, from roughly two million gallons to four million, and is expected to reach eight million by 2008. And these are gains being made by way of corn.

The push for alternative energy is also good for our economy. Ethanol plants have been cropping up throughout the Midwest. Even though they smell, they’ve brought jobs with them.

In the end, we’ll still stand by Farmer John and his corn. Our country already imports more than it exports. Why add something else to the list? Corn ethanol clearly benefits Minnesota. Perhaps a search engine here at the University will find a Minnesota crop that’s better.