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U. S. farmers need to make corn, not apologies

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Ethanol industry and corn producers take issue with former president Bill Clinton's remarks at USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum.

Clinton says corn for ethanol is driving up food prices, and has caused food riots.

Reports show that the rising cost of oil, not ethanol production, is a major cause of increased food prices.

Former president Bill Clinton meant well when he took on the ethanol industry at the USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va., in late February.

“We have to become energy independent. But we don’t want to do it at the expense of food riots,” Clinton said in an obvious reference to the use of corn for ethanol.

It was a great sound bite. He just didn’t have all the facts.

It probably didn’t occur to Clinton that the U.S. ethanol industry uses only three percent of the global grain supply and is expected to return 1.2 billion bushels of corn livestock feed in the form of dried distillers grains and corn gluten feed this year alone, according to the National Corn Growers Association. That amounts to one-third of every bushel of corn used for ethanol.

 I seriously doubt that Clinton knew that the protein percentage in DDGs is higher than in corn, meaning protein in the form of DDGs can be exported very cost-effectively.

NCGA President Bart Schott had this to add, “Every year, America’s farmers produce more than enough corn to meet all the needs of the expanding markets of feed, fuel and food both in the United States and across the world, and the ethanol industry is not an exception. 

“New reports show that the rising cost of oil, not ethanol production, is a major cause of increased food prices. With the continuing unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, it is imperative that we continue to support a home-grown fuel industry that helps keep our country safe and creates jobs. The American farmer is very aware of the world’s rising demand for corn, and we will continue to meet those needs.”

A response from the Renewable Fuels Association pointed out that rising oil prices, “even before the unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, have made everything we buy from food to clothes to fuel more expensive.”

Clinton had a couple of good ideas about reaching out to poorer countries to improve their standards of living and their agriculture. Both ideas were lifted from highly efficient U.S. agricultural production. He talked about the need to introduce U.S. best management practices for rice to the rest of the world as well as the need for a global agricultural extension service based on the model used in the United States.

Unfortunately, Clinton actually seemed to be put off by the high prices American farmers are receiving. “It’s an exciting time to be alive, but we should all ask ourselves whether what we do to increase our income today is consistent to our long-term obligations to fight inequality, instability and the unsustainable way we are using energy.”

He’s wrong. To bring stability, wealth and energy independence to the world, American farmers don’t need to make apologies. They need to make corn and realize a nice profit doing it. 

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