Why is a corn-based agriculture system problematic? Look at the numbers


#1

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#2

Ugh, the breakdown in the article is just depressing:

Today’s corn crop is mainly used for biofuels (roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol) and as animal feed (roughly 36 percent of U.S. corn, plus distillers grains left over from ethanol production, is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens). Much of the rest is exported. Only a tiny fraction of the national corn crop is directly used for food for Americans, much of that for high-fructose corn syrup.

I wonder if the early Americans that engineered maize a few thousand years ago had any idea what they were creating.


#3

Corn ethanol is a Bad Idea anyway, except as an excuse to start setting up the infrastructure for ethanol consumption. It’s really not efficient. What we desperately need is for one of the other ethanol sources to break through their own efficiency barriers.


#4

The article has a lot of flaws to it - but also a lot of truth. It starts out talking about how many calories per acre corn produces and how sad that most of it isn’t converted into human food. That’s fine and good. But then it does a lot of hand waving about organic farming being better and more diverse crops being better.

There isn’t any mention about how many more acres of grass or other crops it takes to raise a pound of beef or chicken. Yes - the conversion ratio from corn to meat might be really crappy - but I suspect that other crops will result in requiring more acres of land to raise the meat.


#5

Read up on Allan Savory’s work with reversing desertification. A lot of people disagree with his conclusions so make sure to keep that in mind (and read up on them, it’s a fun debate), but I don’t think he’s completely wrong either.

His theory is that by properly managing herds the productivity of grasslands actually improves to the point that you get more calories from the available meat than traditional agriculture can provide.


#6

Halophyte farming could give us all the biofuel inputs we need, and can be irrigated with ocean water.

Leave the fresh water and food crops for people to eat.

Or drink.

Its a crime against humanity to turn all that corn into ethanol, rather than bourbon.


#7

Thanks a lot, Presidential primary & caucus system. Iowa will doom us all!


#8

It’s an excellent idea if you want to drive up the price of corn.


#9

None of this is really news, it’s pretty obvious that the system is wasteful. But who will bell the cat? To enact any of those suggested reforms, would take a functional political system, which doesn’t now exist. If it did, the inefficient corn system would be one of many such systems to be reformed.


#10

While true, it is also true that if you’re designing the food system to feed people more corn directly, you’ll also be getting them to eat less meat, or less resource intensive meats, at which point yo can talk about feeding livestock with inedible crops grown on marginal land, or with cover crops, or waste products, and so on.


#11

Oh great. So now not only meat is bad but grains too? Can I at least have a little sun-dried zucchini? Please?


#12

I think I can agree with that!!

However - I don’t think Halophyte farming is anywhere close to being efficient enough to produce biofuels. The idea of cellulosic ethanol still has a long way to go to be commercially viable. (or cellulosic Butanol)


#13

The problem with this is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Yes - livestock can eat things and get calories from plants that we humans can not. However, those plants still need water, sunlight & nutrients to grow. Marginal land will produce marginal crops. Harvesting cover crops or waste products means less nutrients in the soil. I have seen glowing estimates about how much more ethanol we could produce if we can come up with an efficient manner in which to use the cellulose in the corn stalks which are typically a “waste” product. However if you take those stalks off the field you have more erosion and you have to use more fertilizer the next year.


#14

If I remember correctly (fat chance), I think that sugar cane ethanol (from cane grown in the tropics e.g. Brasil) is one of the few biofuels that actually is sustainable without subsidies.


#15

Correction: You could feed 14 vegans per acre, not people. People eat tasty animals.


#16

I’m not a Vegan, but I really don’t think bashing Vegans is helpful. Rather, appreciate what they are doing. Also, Alan Savoy? There is very little evidence to back up his theory, nor was there much evidence to back up his work years ago when his research led to the killing of 40,000 elephants. (And really, I’m not a vegan in disguise, I’ve actually eaten elephant, tough not recently…)

Do check out Emily Cassidy’s TED talk if you get a chance.


#17

It also produces a great deal of oil. Like more than Sunflowers. Bio diesel?


#18

Agree with all of this, and I’m getting pretty annoyed having to pay an extra $.50-60 per gallon for premium gas that I don’t need, in order to not support ethanol.

The ethanol industry keeps bragging up the “choice” provided by the new ethanol blender pumps, well give people a real choice and provide a button for E-0.


#19

Fracking (and large federal subsidies for the nuclear, oil and corn ethanol industries) rig the marketplace so that can’t happen. And sadly the US government always seems to think that more handouts for the wealthy is the way to fix problems caused by their handouts to the wealthy in the first place.


#20

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