Ethanol mandates are going to turn out to be one of the bigger blunders in recent memory:
Catfish farmers across the South, unable to cope with the soaring cost of corn and soybean feed, are draining their ponds.
“It’s a dead business,” said John Dillard, who pioneered the commercial farming of catfish in the late 1960s. Last year Dillard & Company raised 11 million fish. Next year it will raise none. People can eat imported fish, Mr. Dillard said, just as they use imported oil.
As for his 55 employees? “Those jobs are gone.”
Corn and soybeans have nearly tripled in price in the last two years, for many reasons: harvest shortfalls, increasing demand by the Asian middle class, government mandates for corn to produce ethanol and, most recently, the flooding in the Midwest.
We should start a list of things that Ethanol has impacted.
1. Farmer income.
Farmers can’t really cut/regulate food production just for sake of raising food prices, because that would be seen as unethical, food being such a necessity product for, you know, staying alive.
Ethanol production gives food industry extremely convenient ethical cover it needs to yank up food price.
Challenge for aspiring investigative journalist: see if you can find food industry money behind some astroturf pro-ethanol environmental organization.
Instead of finding new ways to take things out of our collective stomachs and put them into our gas tanks, perhaps they can invert the equation and start allowing us to empty our collective bowels and bladders into our gas tanks.
Leave it to The Bush League to steal even our cake and then shit all over us.
I also love the pathetic irony of the whole thing: it’s okay if we starve – so long as we have cheap gas, dammit!
If you’ve never read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you should. Nearly everything we produce for food has it’s roots in corn. Cows, which don’t naturally eat corn, are forced to eat it and grow much larger than nature ever intended. It is fed to chickens and other poultry. Those “natural flavors” you see listed on your favorite foods? Chances are, they’re corn derivatives. But since they’re made from corn, they’re “natural.”
The price of corn will eventualy have an effect on the price of everything. You ask for a list? It’s gonna be a long one.
– All Meat (organic or otherwise)
– Anything with sweetners added
– Nealry all cereals
– Anything with HF Corn Syrup (isn’t that everythign now?)
– Anything with Malodextrin in it (ditto)
– Etc, etc, etc.
Again, corn is so pervasive in almost everything we eat and do, that the price of corn will affect just about everything in some way.
Anyway, pick up a copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Totally worth the read.
John McCain’s decked out BBQs will cost a bit more to put on.
Water Quality is impacted when riparian areas and other previously unplanted areas are ripped up for corn. A lot of really nice fish don’t like the ensuing warm silty water and pea soup lakes. Carp do. I can see the Catfish shacks back on hwy 72 in Bama switching over to Carp shacks. mmmmm.
I think this is one of those subjects which it’s urgent to follow the lobbying of Big Agro and specifically the corn-ethanol lobby, because this was not the result of grassroots activism.
Many plastics are derived from corn, too, so not only do plastics prices rise with oil, they rise with corn too.
Instructions for baking carp…
1 – 2″ x 4″ x 18″ pine board
2 – 2 1/2″ nails
1 – Claw Hammer
1 – Carp
Preheat over to 450 degrees. Nail the carp to the board and place in preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, use claw hammer to pull the nails and remove the carp from the board.
Saw the board into four equal pieces, garnish each piece with tartar sauce and serve.
One reason ethanol is politically sacrosanct (despite not making any sense economically or environmentally) is the Iowa caucuses, coming at the very beginning of the presidential campaign. Any candidate hoping to survive them must bow down to the great ethanol god.
While I think the longer campaign proved its worth this cycle (by weeding out Hillary), starting in Iowa every time is idiotic.
Make sure you don’t use pressure treated wood for a board. They make so much of it now that I see piles of scrap pieces stacked up by many of the fire rings at the summer cabins at a local lake. I wonder if the kids enjoy the toxic coating on their toasted marshmallows? Yummy. Nice smoke too. It’s flavored!
The sad thing is that a pound of fish or chicken much less feed than beef or pork. If my memory serves me correctly: beef-7 pounds, pork-3, fish-2, chicken-1.
At any rate, beef requires much more feed than other meats.
whoops, left out a word:
The sad thing is that a pound of fish or chicken REQUIRES much less feed than beef or pork. If my memory serves me correctly: beef-7 pounds, pork-3, fish-2, chicken-1.
At any rate, beef requires much more feed than other meats.
Let’s make a list of its impacts:
1) My ability to drive
2) My ability to speak without slurring to hot chicks
3) My ability to better tolerate the company of the old lady
I could go on forever.
it’s affected the price of pizza at my local cranky Italian pizzeria. they put a little sign on the counter complaining about the situation, months ago.
..Our nation’s dependance on imported oil?
The Grand Panjandrum
Don’t I hear and see reports on an almost daily basis that we’re a bunch of fat slovenly pig boats who need to walk more and eat healthier food in smaller portions? The ethanol industry and its government subsidies seem to have become quite the panacea with respect to weaning us off of the cheap processed food so many of us rely on.
Higher gas prices and higher prices for the all unsustainably produced items listed above seem like a win to me.
The message is for everyone to plant a vegetable garden, walk or bike more, and only buy meat from DFH farmers raising sustainably grown animals.
(NOTE: This is only half snark. I actually believe we should be doing all those things and most of the food supply is a fucking disaster without all these higher prices. I just don’t think subsidies for the ethanol industry are the answer.)
Grumpy Code Monkey
We bought a side of grass-fed beef from a local rancher last winter, and the differences between it and corn-fed beef are striking. It’s a lot leaner, the cuts are smaller, and the flavor is noticeably different. It’s allegedly higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, but I won’t swear to it.
I don’t doubt corn played some role in raising the animal, but at least it’s diet was largely corn-free.
Grumpy Code Monkey
Dammit, that last “it’s” should be “its”. I know the difference, really.
Do catfish normally eat a lot of corn?
Jinchi: See above. In the US, corn is King. It pretty much forms the basis of just about every animal feedstock in America.
L. Ron Obama
Yes, catfish usually farm their own corn, in an octopus’s garden under the sea.
Corn-derived ethanol, anyway.
Cellulosic ethanol would have far less impact AND it is more efficient at producing fuel than corn. If it weren’t for ConAgra, we would probably be using more of it.
Bob Casey’s office told me a week or two ago that they’re backing away from ethanol too.
This country is run by dolts and oafs.
I agree that this book is an interesting and provocative read, but it’s arguments are very flawed and its conclusions not always compelling. For example, you can’t really argue that nature “intended” for humans to domesticate animals or grow food, so stuff about what nature intended for cows quickly falls apart. Part of what we do is to exploit nature for our benefit. The only question is how to best do this responsibly.
The BBC news site recently had a great piece on biofuels (Bioenergy: Fuelling the food crisis?)
The BBC also has a link to a comprehensive set of graphs and charts which provide some background on food prices (The cost of food: Facts and figures).
A couple of things stand out here. Rising corn prices affect international markets (such as the increased price of corn in Mexico and its impact on food staples there), and an impact on rice and wheat, which are a larger portion of world food supplies. But oddly enough, the commodity price of rice and wheat was significantly higher in the 1970s than at present, and the world had previously enjoyed an era of increased food production and decreasing or at least stable prices.
As Michael D. and some other commenters were hinting at, it’s not exactly natural that the rising cost of corn should force a catfish farm out of business. Any business that relies/relied on cheap corn to be viable over the last decade was already depending on a market distorted by subsidies.
I know it’s hard to tell a coherent and correct story about a complicated situation in the space of a newspaper article. But I’m always a little confused by the stories that simply try to say “the rising cost of X forced producers/distributors of Y out of business”, without really explaining why it isn’t a viable option to just raise the prices on Y. Later on in this article, they do a decent job of explaining that deep sea fishing is (for now) able to deliver better and/or cheaper fish, and therefore out-competing the catfish farmers. But part of me suspects that, underneath the woe-is-me spin that suggests that farmers are somehow losing their pappy’s catfish farm or something, the real reason is explained right at the end of the story: the owners have just calculated that they can now make more money growing soybeans and corn.
Yes. I’m hoping that the ethanol bandwagon doesn’t get completely shut down before we discover more efficient technologies to make it out of native prairie grasses that can be grown without (oil based) ferilizers or huge amounts of additional water.
Someone described Big Ag to me as an hourglass where there are lots of farmers producing product on one end and lots of buyers waiting for that product on the other end. Big Ag has positioned itself as the narrow portion of the hourglass that everything has to pass thru to get from grower to buyer. They are gaming the system. Farmers pay. We pay. People go hungry. Big Ag gets rich. Same old same old.
I bought a used Ford Ranger the day after Paul Wellstone’s plane went down. About a year after I bought it, I realized that it was a flex-fuel vehicle and started using ethanol, which is readily available in most parts of MN and is cheaper to use despite a drop in mileage. As I said above, I’ll feel a lot better about using the stuff when non-corn versions are available. Corn-based ethanol has as many problems as gasoline.
So anyway, I bought a scooter last spring and now I’m getting 65mpg and leaving the truck at home for 9/10 of my driving. Best personal solution I could come up with.
But I Digress
We in the south will erect a statue larger than any to Our Confederate Dead to whomever figures out how to make ethanol from kudzu.
It would be easier to list everyday things that Ethanol has not impacted.
Ella in NM
Get corn out of the food chain!
A diet heavy or exclusive in corn or cheap grains is NOT natural for any animal we raise for food, from catfish to chickens to cows. For most of the animals we FORCE feed it to, it’s not nourishing, actually contributes poor health, and results in a lot of the decline in the nutritional quality of meat, poultry and fish. In many animals, corn encourages microbial overgrowth by E.coli, salmonella, et.al flourish because of it’s high sugar content, and the fact that the gut flora of animals we feed it to cannot digest it, and so we end up giving them antibiotics and other drugs to get them through the fattening up process before slaughter.
Humans shouldn’t eat it in the quantities and forms we do (flours/meals, high-fructose corn syrup, etc.), because it contributes to insulin resistance, high blood fats and obesity—and yet it is practically ubiquitous, found in every cheap food out there.
Wanna know why our dogs and cats are so fat? All the grains, especially corn, dumped into the pet foods we feed them. Cats are obligate carnivores, and should NEVER be fed grains, especially stuff like corn. Dogs are more like us, but a little carbohydrate goes a long way with them, and it’s preferable that it be vegetable, fruit or nut-type carbs, not grains.
Not unlike oil, the fact that corn may become too expensive my be a blessing in disguise because then we would find better types of feed for not only the animals we eat, but for ourselves. Maybe we need to fine another cash crop to subsidize farmers to grow.
Not in their normal state at least the way catfishing was 50 years ago before the farming started. Hell you probably don’t want to know what the eat naturally. They are bottom feeding scavengers,just like republicans. favorite bait during my youth was chicken guts. Catfish loved them, and who knows maybe repubs do too.
How do y’all make those little gray boxes with the quotes? I’m using a Mac with OSX 10.4.8 and Safari 2.0.4 and I can’t see anything on my screen that would give a hint as to how to do this.
I wanted to reply to what Chuch said above. Yes, they can make money growing corn and soybeans. But the article specifically said they were now making 75 cents on catfish farming for every dollar they put into it. In other words, under present conditions catfish farming is a charity for lovers of cheap catfish. And they can’t raise the price because Asian catfish like basa is still cheap.
I am using Safari on a Mac as well. There should be a bunch of buttons just above the box where you enter your comment. If you paste the thing you want to quote into the box, select it, and click on the ‘B-Quote’ button, it will create the blockquote box.
Ethanol doesn’t have to be made out of food grains. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is now working on a grant to study how best to turn switch grass into fuel-grade ethanol. For those of you unfamiliar with switch grass, it grows wild in highway ditches in virtually every midwestern and prairie state and a number of mountain and southwestern states. It is a perennial which can be harvested several times a year by mowing the ditches, a task which state road departments do routinely several times during the growing season. It could also be harvested from fallow or pasture ground in private hands. Many national parks have a significant amount of ground which could be seeded to switch grass if it is not already growing there. Best of all, using switch grass for ethanol actually does cut down on petroleum use and does not take food grain away from animals or people.
Oops! Sorry John S. and Chuck. Didn’t read the previous comments carefully enough. Switch grass is, of course, cellulose. Did I mention it’s a native grass? This means it doesn’t require irrigation, herbicides, fertilizer, or insecticides.
Priscianus, your OS and browser aren’t to blame. I have the same. In the comment box, paste the text you want to blockquote, select it, click the little button “B-Quote.” Then hit return before entering your comment.
Things ethanol has impacted: the credibility of biofuels.
By associating “biofuel” with “agribiz scam” the ethanol rort is going to drive acceptance of alternative fuels backwards in the US.
Did the deference being paid to Iowa’s corn and ethonol production have much to do with that State having an early presidential primary? If so, we need to change that system.