Guest view: Story showed 'significant void' in knowledge of ethanol

November 24, 2013 

The AP article, "The secret, dirty cost of Obama's green power push," that was BND front-page news and your editorial follow-up on Nov. 13 illustrates a significant void in your grasp of energy and renewable fuels industry fundamentals. The AP article dramatized that because of ethanol, farmers have "plowed into pristine prairies" and their "sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer." But the AP and BND failed to let the hard facts get in the way of good copy. For example:

* According to the USDA, total U.S. cropland today is roughly 5 percent lower than it was in the mid 1990s.

* The increase in corn acreage has been achieved through crop-switching away from less valuable agricultural products.

* As for fertilizers and other industrial chemicals, in 2010 (latest data avail from USDA) corn farmers used 1 percent less nitrogen, 10 percent less phosphate and 28 percent less potash than they did in 1985 -- and yet the 2010 crop was 40 percent larger than in 1985.

The article also failed to highlight the many other benefits that the increase in ethanol (and other biofuels) usage has created, such as:

* Cleaner air -- Ethanol reduces GHG emissions by 34 percent compared to gasoline.

* Jobs -- 87,000 direct jobs created along with 295,000 indirect jobs.

* Farmer subsidies -- reduction of $4 to $5 billion per year.

* Reduced reliance on foreign oil -- Today we send $100 million per day less out of the country to pay for oil imports (much of which would go to unfriendly governments).

* Lower prices at the pump -- Wholesale prices for ethanol are consistently well below that of gasoline, sometimes as much as $1 per gallon.

As private investors in an industry that has had such a positive impact across the board -- cleaner air, jobs, reduced government outlays, improved national energy security and lower cost transportation fuels for consumers -- we struggle to understand the logic of continuous criticism.

Last, the article took a number of jabs at farmer income these days. I found it interesting to look back at a few prices from the early 1970s versus today.

Early 1970s Today

U.S. Corn/Bushel $2 to $4 $4.50

U.S. Domestic Crude Oil/Barrel $3 to $5 $94

New Mid-Size U.S. Automobile $3,000 $30,000

It appears that ag price increases have failed to keep pace with some of our other industries.

Barry Frazier is president of Center Ethanol Co. LLC in Sauget.

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