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Food and Fuel Debate Oversimplified

Posted on April 6, 2011 at 9:07 AM by Iowa Corn

This post was originally published in the Thursday, March 5 edition of Iowa Farmer Today. You can view the original article here.

Deb Keller, who farms near Clarion with her family, is chairwoman-elect of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.

The food and fuel debate is a great oversimplification of a complex issue. It just doesn’t work that simply, and neither does hunger.

The discussion should include the current food supply and food-supply chain, trade politics, animal feed, world economics and the advantages of producing ethanol from corn.

A very easily missed fact is with most renewable-fuels production, you remove the energy and are still left with feed for livestock. With corn ethanol, the feed value is enhanced: The distiller’s dried grains (DDGs) co-product is more nutritious than the original unprocessed grain because of the yeast.

Local production of ethanol from locally grown corn can cut dependence and cash spent on foreign fuel, increase local community resources, and provide a spur for state job creation and growth. And, growing biofuels crops can encourage food-crop production rather than reduce it, creating a food and fuel partnership.

Each time corn prices increase, alarmists start talking about higher food prices. In fact, the U.S. farm and food sector is so efficient consumers’ food costs — as it relates to their entire income — has been shrinking for decades. Americans pay less for their daily food than any other nation in the world, and the farmer’s share of each dollar spent on food is less than 19 cents.

Corn ingredients are important in many foods and more than 4,000 everyday products, but corn is often present in amounts too small to justify price changes at the grocery store checkout. For example, if corn goes from $4 per bushel to $6 per bushel, the price change at the grocery store for cereal is just pennies worth of corn. Other products such as hamburger, pork chops, eggs and milk also have pennies worth of corn value in the final cost.

The largest driving factor for changing food prices is the cost of transportation and labor. If added with marketing, packaging, and advertising, you see where 80 percent of your food dollar is spent.

I heard a very good quote from Bill Hudson with ProExporter at a recent meeting. He said we will need to drive to eat in this country. That statement supports it is not an either-or scenario, but it is the need for food and fuel — food for a growing world population and fuel for a nation hungry for energy.

AS A farmer getting ready for another planting season, I feel tremendous pride and also apprehension for the upcoming growing season. I know looking at trend-line yields today would have been unbelievable to the first generations farming our family farm. And, being involved in the mapping for the corn genome research, I know the power packed into the corn plant and its amazing ability to grow in challenging weather.

But, as a farmer, I know there is too much information out there for consumers. With more Americans growing up in urban and suburban areas, there is increasing misinformation. In 1950, 75 percent of the world’s population was rural. In 2050, 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to be urban.

Because of this, there are many misconceptions about farming and the food we eat. Today’s U.S. farmer feeds 155 people worldwide, up from 25.8 people in 1960, according to the Center for Food Integrity. Thanks to farmers, U.S. families enjoy the safest, most-affordable and abundant food supply in the world. To do this, we are producing more food on less land because of technology and seed advancements.

HOW DO we share what we know from the tractor cab with our city cousins? It starts with talking to your family, friends and neighbors. Then they can talk to their family, friends and neighbors, and so on. It also starts with reaching consumers where they shop, eat and fill up their vehicles.

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board has many educational programs and events under way including partnerships with NASCAR, the Indy Racing League, the state of Iowa, Iowa State University and a new consumer mom-to-mom program called CommonGround.

The purpose of each partnership is to talk to consumers about what farmers are doing and reassure the general population we are producing food and fuel in the most-efficient and environmentally sustainable manner. As a mother, wife and farmer, I take this responsibility very seriously.

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