You Can’t Eat Raw Field Corn


Ethanol in the news….

Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, called the recent criticism of ethanol by foreign officials “a big joke.” He questioned why they were not also blaming a drought in Australia that reduced the wheat crop and the growing demand for meat in China and India.

“You make ethanol out of corn,” he said. “I bet if I set a bushel of corn in front of any of those delegates, not one of them would eat it.”

Fair enough senator. I wouldn’t eat it either. Here are some of the things I would eat. I would eat the beef, pork, poultry and fish that are fed by that corn. I would eat any number of the thousands of products that are made from that corn. I would eat the cheese made from the milk of dairy cows fed by that corn. I would eat any number of the thousands of products that are made from the soybeans that corn displaced due to its high price. I would eat any of the thousands of products made by substitution commodities like wheat, barley, rice and sorghum that have increased in price due to the rise in the cost of corn.

Come on senator. We know that ethanol is good for the Iowa economy. We know that it reduces the use of foreign oil. We know that ethanol mandates have less to do with the increase in the cost of food products than does high fuel costs and increased demand. But please, senator, don’t insult our intelligence by implying that, since raw field corn is barely edible, its diversion for other uses has no impact on the price of foodstuffs around the world. For years we in Iowa have bragged that we are the breadbasket of the world. If that wasn’t a lie, of course diverting corn from food to fuel is going to have an impact on the price of food.

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2 Responses to You Can’t Eat Raw Field Corn

  1. wanderer says:

    The essential and most significant ingredient of animal feeds today is not corn but rather protein meals made from soybeans and other “meals” such as cottonseed and sunflowers known in the trade as protein meals.
    Dairy cattle are fed on soymeal, fooder crops, and huge quantities of alfalfa hay and virtually no corn.
    Kkeep in mind that half of American agricultural output has been exported for several decades and that demand for grains both for food and human consumption is soaring in China,India, oil rich Russia, and the Persian Gulf as standards of living rise in those lands.
    Fryer/broiler chicken are referred to as soybeans with wings. My grand- fsther’s family and their descendants have been farmers for five generations and guess what all them agree corn is not used to feed dairy cattle to produce milk or cheese in significant quantities by dairy farmers.
    Much of the beef produced in the US comes from feedyards in the western Great Plains where the primary grain used to finish the range raised
    “feeders” is sorghum grain grown locally supplemented by soybean and suflower meal.
    Two years ago the BS story circulated in the media that Mexico was suffering from a spike in the price of tortillas because American corn exports had driven Mexican corn growers out of business because of NAFTA. The truth of the mattter was that US yellow corn is not used in Mexico to make tortillas. We are again getting a bunch of crap info from NYC and Los Angeles so called journalists who know absolutely nothing about the normal use of American grain production and what grains feed meat producing animals.
    A major by-product of ethanol production is in fact a concentrated protein meal leftover after the starches are extracted from corn in the process of producing ethanol that is used as animal feed.

  2. R.D. Walker says:

    Wanderer: I agree that much of the hype regarding ethanol mandates driving up food prices is untrue. Reasonable estimates attribute 10% to 15% of the increase over the last few years is due to ethanol mandates.

    Here is how American corn was used in 2006/2007:

    5.6 billion bushels went to animal feeds
    2.1 billion bushels were exported
    2.1 billion were used to produce ethanol
    0.75 billion bushels were used to make sweeteners
    0.27 billion were used to make starch for food and industrial use
    0.19 billion became breakfast cereals, snack chips, tortillas and other corn foods
    0.14 billion bushels of corn were fermented into alcoholic beverages

    Because sweetener, starch and alcohol production doesn’t use all of the corn kernel, the 3.5 billion bushels that went into those products also provided 29.4 million tons of animal feed and 3.3 billion pounds of corn oil.

    In 2006/2007, 5.6 billion bushels of American corn went to animal feeds. That is 250% of what was used to produce ethanol. In is not insignificant. Out of Iowa’s corn crop, 47% went to hogs, 29% to beef cattle, 18% to poultry and 6% to dairy cattle.

    Now, having said that, all grain prices are interdependent. Grains are substitution goods. When corn prices increase, there is a corresponding increase in the cost of soy products made from the beans displaced as farmers grow more beans. This is, in fact, born out by experience. In 2007 a historically low percentage of beans were planted in Iowa as corn became more lucrative. Soybean prices also saw a significant increase in price. It is foolish to argue that, when corn displaces soybeans, soybean prices will not increase.

    Even grains that are not physically displaced in fields are, as substitution goods, affected by the increase in corn prices. Surprisingly, even rice will see a slight increase when corn prices rise.

    In short, you make the mistake of assuming that you can analyze the cost of foodstuffs by examining in isolation how a single input is used. You cannot. Virtually all grain prices are interdependent to one degree or another. In is without doubt that ethanol mandates have played some role in the increase in food prices worldwide.