The Coming Collection

While I’d never claim to be clairvoyant, I’m willing to bet you’re all pondering the same question I have about the ethanol boom: When will the madness end?

With the summer in full swing and the mega-busy spring behind us, there’s a bit more time to contemplate such questions, and this one in particular leads to headaches requiring double doses of ibuprofen. Exactly which trend, vulnerability, blind spot, etc., will “deep six” the boom that has rearranged the cosmos for U.S. agriculture? And, what happens to us when it does?

Most experts agree that virtually nothing could serve to derail the “biofuel” movement, with “biofuel” being the operative word. But what happens between now and the ultimate destination — a biomass-to-fuel production system that produces biofuel at a reasonably consistent level of profitability, not to mention without the ethical baggage and economic impact of the food vs. fuel question — could serve to be a pretty bumpy ride.

Of course, in the grand American tradition of celebrating success one day only to wake up the next morning and rip it to shreds, ethanol is taking it full on the chin these days. Despite its amazing accomplishments to date, the ethanol movement has more recently been characterized as strictly a gold rush for greedy businesses to try to cash in on something that will prove completely impractical in the long run.

While it would be naive to assert that there aren’t gold diggers in the ethanol fray, let’s take a deep breath here. For many, many years, the ethanol movement existed in a state of suspended animation in the U.S., waiting for an opportunity to cash in on its hard work. I’ll never forget visiting the ethanol booth at the 2005 Commodity Classic, a modest in-line tabletop with a guy who was only slightly less lonely than the Maytag repairman. Who could blame the industry for its exuberance?

Simultaneously, row crop growers in the Midwest looking for any port in an uncertain market have rapidly embraced corn production to the tune of an estimated 90 million-plus acres in an effort to feed the 115 bioenergy plants currently online, and 79 under construction.

Now, a whole host of factors are weakening the walls of the continuously inflating ethanol balloon. The world, as well as earmarked funding in the Bush administration’s farm bill proposals, target cellulosic production methods. Land values continue to rise, tapping into farm profitability. The prospect of $4 corn might have growers salivating, but it cripples the ethanol plant’s ability to operate profitably. New plants under construction now cost significantly more than their predecessors, consequently extending the payback timeframe by years.

Then, of course, there’s the “food vs. fuel” issue. Consumers are being told alternately that food prices are going up because of corn going to ethanol, and then because of the cost of energy in general. If food prices do increase beyond the point of consumer tolerance, and the media decides to create a villain out of the ethanol industry, it won’t matter much who’s right or wrong.

All challenges aside, biofuels are here to stay. But all signs point to a market “correction” in the not too distant future that will once again challenge U.S. agriculture to adjust and adapt. 

Leave a Reply

Latest News
HerbicidesBREAKING: EPA Pulls Registration On Dow’s Enlist …
November 25, 2015
EPA on Wednesday withdrew approval of a controversial new weed killer to be used on genetically modified corn and soybeans, Read More
FertilizerYara Tampa Ammonia Terminal Garners ResponsibleAg Honor…
November 25, 2015
Yara has received its first ResponsibleAg Certification for its Tampa, FL, Ammonia terminal location. This achievement demonstrates Yara’s commitment to Read More
ManagementReviewing The Top Ag Stories For 2015
November 24, 2015
Editors Eric Sfiligoj and Paul Schrimpf discuss the most noteworthy events from this past year in agriculture. Read More
EmployeesAgriculture Jobs May Be Plentiful, But New Grads Are Sc…
November 24, 2015
Close to 60,000 jobs are set to open up in agriculture each year for the next five years, but there's not enough grads to fill them. Read More
Radish cover crop
StewardshipCover Crops Guide Helps Growers Improve Water Quality
November 23, 2015
A publication that teaches growers the advantages of using cover crops to improve soil health and crop yields has won Read More
Crop InputsThe Andersons’ Products Receive California Organi…
November 23, 2015
The Plant Nutrient Group of The Andersons, Inc. announced today that its Humic DG and Black Gypsum DG products are Read More
Eric SfiligojNew European Study Seems To Support Glyphosate Safety
November 23, 2015
Looking at any international news over the past few years, it might seem as if the European Union (EU) is Read More
Toggle Biostimulant corn roots
Crop InputsTwo New Biostimulants Added To United Suppliers’ …
November 20, 2015
Winfield US announces the launch of two new products in the United Suppliers portfolio for the 2016 crop season, Optify Read More
StewardshipNRDC Report: Cover Crops Contain Vast Benefits
November 19, 2015
As harvest season ends and farmers in the United States ready themselves for winter, one small change could make a Read More
Fall Harvest
Seed/BiotechArysta Launches New Seed Protectant
November 19, 2015
As spring wheat growers begin planning for a strong start to their season, Arysta LifeScience North America announces RANCONA V Read More
Crop InputsInocucor Receives U.S. Patent For Microbials
November 19, 2015
Inocucor Technologies Inc., the Montreal-based agriculture biotech company, was issued patent No. 9,175,258 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to protect Read More
ManagementSyngenta Rumors and ARA 2015 Preview
November 19, 2015
CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj looks at the latest rumors involving Syngenta selling its crop protection business and talks about events Read More
EquipmentAGCO Announces Finalists For Operator Of The Year Honor
November 19, 2015
AGCO Corp. has announced the four top operators chosen as finalists for AGCO’s 10th Annual Operator of the Year program, Read More
High Plains Aquifer
StewardshipStudy: High Plains Aquifer Overall Usage In Decline
November 18, 2015
A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge Read More
Golden Harvest Corn healthy leaves
FungicidesArysta Launches New Corn And Soybean Fungicide
November 17, 2015
Arysta LifeScience North America has recently launched ZOLERA FX Fungicide. The highly systemic, powerful fungicide delivers broad-spectrum disease control with Read More
Young corn plants in soil
Crop InputsBioAg Alliance: Microbials Targeted For 250-500 million…
November 17, 2015
Monsanto and Novozymes have announced a new 2025 acreage target that will guide the companies’ microbials business for the next Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta Still Being Eyed For China Takeover
November 16, 2015
China National Chemical Corp. approached sovereign wealth funds including China Investment Corp. to help pay for a potential acquisition of Read More
Cedar Country Cooperative
Eric SfiligojCooperative Consolidation Continues
November 16, 2015
As I put this enewsletter column together, we’ve just put the finishing touches on our magazine’s annual CropLife 100 report. Read More