On relaxing the ethanol mandate

Great idea, bad implementation:

"As stressful weather conditions continue to push corn yields lower and prices upward, the economic ramifications for consumers, livestock and poultry producers, food manufacturers and food service providers will become more severe," the senators wrote.

Hagan and her fellow Senators are correct, the ethanol mandate needs to be eased in the wake of this year's horrible corn crop. But we can't let this lesson go unnoticed. It's long past time we diversified our ethanol production, parking our cars back in the driveway and away from the dinner table:

The agency is preparing to make a decision that can help in the long run: allowing use of sorghum for ethanol. Grain sorghum -- not the sweet sorghum cane used to make molasses in our part of the country -- is grown almost entirely for animal feed. It can thrive in hotter and drier conditions than corn. Although it is currently raised in relatively small amounts, production could increase to meet ethanol demands without cutting into human food supplies, while reducing pressure on corn.

Anticipating the EPA decision, the owner of an ethanol plant in Kansas already has announced plans to renovate the facility so it can process sorghum, The Associated Press reported.

That "drier conditions" observation points to another (big) problem with relying on corn for ethanol production. Corn is a thirsty crop, and farmers across the nation have been tapping into aquifers to irrigate, especially during times of drought, and regulators are hard-pressed to ensure there are enough supplies for drinking water and agricultural needs.

And when there isn't enough water for farmers, whether from irrigation or steady precipitation, they're forced to do something else which has an extremely negative impact on our water supplies:

The drought has devastated crops, pushed food commodity prices to record highs and boosted fertilizer shares, the analyst said.

Corn is a crucial opportunity, because U.S. corn inventory has plunged 65 percent from earlier estimates, the analyst said. The resulting high prices will encourage farmers to plant more acres and use more nitrogen fertilizer, driving revenue higher for fertilizer companies.

Unlike other fertilizers such as phosphate, nitrogen fertilizer must be applied to crops every year to prevent much lower yields.

Unless you've had your head buried in the (dry) sand for the last few years, the controversy surrounding the Jordan Lake Rules should have come to mind after reading the above.

While this situation might please investors in fertilizer companies, the further impairment of our waters should be the nail in the coffin for corn ethanol in the minds of wise elected officials.

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Flashback

Taken from BlueNC's archives from 4 1/2 years ago:

Unfortunately, the collision of the world's appetite for combustible fuel with the world's food-related agriculture is affecting a change that is already having a horrific impact on food security as well as the environment itself.

We're smarter than this, people. We have to be, for our future's sake.