Ethanol production is not about food vs. fuel.
It’s about food and fuel.
The conversion of grain to ethanol and other
co-products is relatively simple. The starch and fiber
are converted to ethanol and a variety of other
products, depending on the process used.
A “dry mill” process is the most common technology
and is used in about 80% of U.S. ethanol plants.
This is a basic but technologically innovative
process that converts a bushel of corn into
three products that differ in volume, but are
nearly equal in weight.
Basically, one bushel of corn yields one-third
its weight in ethanol, one-third in high protein
livestock feed (called “distillers grains”) and
one-third in carbon dioxide, which can be
used for food and beverage processing and
A 14 ounce box of corn flakes costs about $2.97 to
$3.50. When corn is $2 per bushel, a box of corn
flakes includes about 2.2¢ worth of corn. At $4 per
bushel, the amount of corn in that cereal costs 4.4¢.
Illinois Corn Marketing Board
Between March 2006 and March 2007, fresh chicken
prices were up 1.6 percent per pound. The average
price of one dozen eggs was one penny more in
March 2007 than in March 2004.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
“A doubling of feed grain and oilseed prices would
increase average food prices by less than four percent
Bruce Babcock, Iowa State University.
America’s farmers are the most efficient and productive in
the world. In 2006, U.S. corn farmers produced a near
record 10.74 billion bushels of corn. Of that, 1.8 billion
bushels went to the production of ethanol and
co-products. (It’s important to note that ethanol
production also consumed about 26 percent of the
nation’s grain sorghum crop in 2006.)
In 2007, farmers responded to market signals
(as they always have) and geared up to fulfill the
demand for more corn. In June 2007, the USDA
National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that
farmers planted 92.9 million acres of corn—an
increase of 14.5 million acres
over the previous year.
Much of this came from the conversion of cotton
and soybean acres to corn.
The ongoing innovation in crop genetics and
technology continues to help farmers produce more
bushels on the same acres. Based on recent estimates,
U.S. corn farmers have the potential to produce
15 billion to 16 billion bushels annually by 2015—
perhaps as much as 18 billion bushels
. Of this crop,
one-third could be used in ethanol production—
providing enough corn for 15 billion to 20 billion
gallons of ethanol
. That would leave a minimum
of 12 billion bushels for feed, food and export
markets—up from 9.5 billion bushels in 2006