Monday, January 22, 2007

ETHANOL AND CORN FOR FOOD

Should we be concerned that demand for corn for ethanol will lead to increased prices of corn based food products for consumers?

I'm more concerned with the corn used for animal feed vs. human consumption (as in Corn Chips). Corn raised for direct human consumption is a very small part of the total market for corn. It's production and cost functions are quite different from other types of corn. The different types of corn are not likely close substitutes in production. (even soybeans and corn for feed are likely better substitutes) I'm not sure if most corn producers grow more or less corn for human consumption based on demands for ethanol or livestock feed since it's not the same corn (this is also a strong rebuttal to those who laud the comment 'eat a steak starve an African').

Although I agree if corn for ethanol and animal feed becomes profitable enough, some producers may retool and switch to producing commodity grade corn, causing increased price pressures in the food markets as indicated in the previous post.
But for now I think we'll see greater ramifications from the livestock markets and meat prices. We'll see more corn acres grown at the expense of soybeans, driving up their prices as well.

From the livestock producer's perspective, a good policy question would be, why should government be legislatively creating demand for ethanol and creating a boom market for one industry segment, while increasing the costs (in corn and feed prices) in another. Of course there is debate and on going research being done related to how this is actually going to affect livestock producers.

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