News / USA

Drought Re-Ignites Food vs. Fuel Fight

GALVA, Iowa — This summer’s scorching drought in the US Midwest has re-kindled a fight over the supply of maize as competition heats up between livestock producers and ethanol fuel production.
 
The price of maize – called corn in the United States – is soaring on global markets, pushing up the price of meat, milk and eggs as the cost of feeding animals goes up.
 
However, a growing proportion of US corn is used to produce ethanol for auto fuel.

It has helped spark an economic boom in parts of rural America. In corn-farming towns like Galva that had been shrinking for decades, new homes are being built. A new 400-seat performing arts center opened at the local school.

And farmers like Alan Bennett are buying new equipment. 

"[There are] three ethanol plants within easy driving distance of here," he says. "And there is a lot of competition for corn now.  And there was not before."


Home-grown fuel

In 2005, Congress passed a law requiring ethanol in U.S. gasoline.  One reason was to produce more fuel at home, says Delayne Johnson, manager of the Quad County Corn Processors ethanol plant in Galva.
 
"As we have domestically-produced products, we have less dependency on the Middle East, where we have obviously spent money trying to defend that area," says Johnson.

Use of domestically-produced ethanol has grown as government requirements have increased.  Now, at least a quarter of the U.S. corn crop is turned into fuel.

Economists say that is one reason the price of corn is triple what it was before 2005.


The ethanol animal

Bill Tentinger grows corn a hundred kilometers away, in Le Mars, Iowa.

But he also feeds corn to his pigs.  He supports ethanol...to a point.

"It has been over-done, which creates a huge animal consuming [corn] that we have to compete with," says Tentinger.

Cattle, pigs and chickens are competing with that other corn-consuming animal, ethanol, like never before, as this year's drought dramatically cuts the corn supply.  Corn prices have set a new record.  The livestock industry is facing big cost increases, and some meat producers may go out of business.

So the industry is asking Congress to waive the law that requires ethanol in gasoline.

"If we do not waive that law and the ethanol industry is allowed to continue to make [ethanol], the crop is going to get [eaten] up, and it is not going to go into food," said Tentinger.

Tentinger says the cost of food will go up, hurting consumers already struggling in a slow economy.

Hometown trouble

But farmer Alan Bennett says waiving the law would be a blow to his town, and to consumers as well.

"It could bankrupt the ethanol plant," he said. "It is a huge deal.  This country relies on ethanol for 10 percent of its fuel supply.  Ethanol is good for America."

Bill Tentinger agrees.  But he says this year's drought has made him think differently.

"I have not been one of these [people] that have really argued the food-versus-fuel argument, but yet, in the end, maybe it does come down to that," he said.

With the ethanol industry now a fixture in the U.S. economy, that argument is likely to continue.

Related photo gallery

  • The ethanol plant in Galva, Iowa turns corn into auto fuel. (Steve Baragona/VOA)
  • Alan Bennett grows corn for the ethanol plant in Galva, Iowa. (Steve Baragona/VOA)
  • Bill Tentinger raises pigs in Le Mars, Iowa. (Steve Baragona/VOA)
  • Competition for corn from ethanol is raising the cost of feeding pigs. (Steve Baragona/VOA)

You May Like

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Alan Bennett from: Galva, Iowa
August 13, 2012 7:35 PM
This story didn't include the fact that high quality animal feed is a co-product of the fermentation of corn for ethanol. One third of the corn is produced into dried distillers grain which is more nutrient dense than corn, and that allows it to be blended with lower quality feed such as corn stalks, and fed to animals. This economical feed source has encouraged local farmers to feed more cattle near the ethanol plants.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid