Monday, August 06, 2007


You may have heard the headlines about the resulting increase in food prices from demand for ethanol. There is actually much more to the story.

It is true that in this country, we eat corn, wheat, and soybeans. We may not directly consume them, but they are our staples. We used to devote about 60% of our corn crop to animal feed ( meat & milk consumption), 20% to exports, 15% to food byproducts and direct consumption, and the remainder for industrial uses and ethanol. Now almost 18% of our corn crop is being devoted to ethanol production. Of course this will put upward pressure on the price of corn. And as people divert acres away from wheat and soybeans it will put upward pressure on the prices of those commodities too. So it would seem palpable that food prices would follow the trend. They have to some degree.

According to a recent study :

“Increasing petroleum prices have about twice the impact on consumer food prices as equivalent increases in corn prices”

Compared to energy, even corn prices impact a much smaller segment of the food market. Advancements in genetics and technology are allowing producers to continue to meet our demands for both food and fuel with minimal impacts on price. This year the markets have responded via producers planting the largest corn crop since WWII. There are projections of a record crop of 11 billion bushels this fall.

I admit that much of this demand and the response to it stems partly from a 51-cents per gallon tax credit, and a 54-cents-a-gallon tariff on imported ethanol, and ethanol based oxygenate reqquirements for all gasoline. As I mentioned in a previous post, gasoline demand and production is based largeley on governent subsidies and regulations as well. The point is that the market is responding given the circumstances and the crisis is not what many are making it out to be.

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