Record Drought May Be a Good Time to Stop Using Corn for Fuel

corn drought
Newsflash: The United Nations and The Wall Street Journal just agreed on something. Earlier this month the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization issued a statement urging "an immediate, temporary suspension" of America's use of corn to produce ethanol, in order to "allow more of the crop to be channelled toward food and feed uses."

Within 24 hours, the Journal responded: "Natural disasters can't be controlled. Ethanol is a man-made disaster that could be stopped."

What size "disaster" does it take to align the Journal with the United Nations? Simply this: Over the course of a scorching summer, the U.S. is smoldering its way into our worst drought in 50 years.

Shucking Dollars Down the Drain

The Department of Agriculture says we're likely to reap only 10.8 billion bushels of corn in 2012. That sounds like a lot, but it's actually 13% less than we grew in 2011, and the smallest harvest since 2006 -- despite American farmers planting the most acres ever planted in the past 75 years. Today, fewer than one acre in four in America has a "good" crop or better. The rest of the crop is "poor" ... or worse.

And yet, with so little corn to go around, U.S. law still mandates that we take 40% of the harvest and turn it into ethanol -- not useful things like corn chips (yum!) or cattle feed, but a fuel blamed for everything from wasting water to corroding engines to simply not being all that good a fuel source. (A liter of ethanol, when burned, generates a third less energy than a liter of oil.)

Topping it all off, the making of ethanol may actually consume more energy than the burning of the finished product produces. Depending on how you run the numbers, it may take as much as 29% more energy to plant, fertilize, harvest, transport, and distill a gallon of ethanol than you get out of that gallon once ignited in your car engine. (Oh, and taxpayers subsidize the stuff, too.)

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith holds no position in any company mentioned.

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As for the corn pone idea, of methanol... my car got 370 plus, miles per tank. Today, with California, "fuel," it ges, just over 200... Maybe GM should mean, genetically modified...

January 27 2013 at 6:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

3D printing... is this the new hoax... to make things out of ink, and, morph the molecular structure of printed, "components," into, other compounds; as in the socalled, creation of a violin, with, ready to play, ink, strings..? . Psst, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn, to sell... Edgrrr...

January 27 2013 at 6:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Violet's News

Record Drought is a great time to get a lot of young people to work on
creating dams and ways to get water into the states that need it.
This is not only vital to keep food from becoming out of reach for
middle class Americans, but it's vital for prevent fires from destroying
people's homes and yes, from floods.
The President should use executive privilege to allocate immediate
funds for infrastructure and declare a crisis instead of playing games
with a Congress and Senate that are dysfunctional. There's an army
of men being wasted in Afghanistan that can work on this program
as they did during Roosevelt's time when some of the greatest
bridges went up, and while they're at it.
Get Amtrak to close shop and get a railway system in there where
a person can get to work in 20 mins or less, without traffic snarls,
frustrations over the price of gas, and cleaner air to breathe.
I once went on Amtrak for an overnight from LA to SF, and came
away with bruised knees sharing a sleeping cabin with a friend,
and room a dog wouldn't sleep in, and remembered going by
train in Italy to Venice and stretching out for the few hours time.
We are so behind everything and for those who question global
warming, at least we will be prepared if it does happen.
Now this is walking into the future.

a man can get to work in twenty minutes or less, without traffic
snarls, and frustrations over the price of gas,

August 20 2012 at 4:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am curious as to why we don't use sugar alcohol instead of ethanol. Hawaii generally has bumper crops of sugar and it might even work out better than corn. Why don't our esteemed Congress Critters investigate this possible alternative?

August 20 2012 at 4:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Leave it to our goldbricking politicians to figure out a way to always screw "We the people"

August 20 2012 at 9:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You put corn in you and gas in your car !

August 20 2012 at 12:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

he ethanol idea is a waste of food and feed.

August 19 2012 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Henry Ford discovered 100 years ago that ethanol was an impractical fuel. The Model T was designed to run on it. I will not buy any fuel with ethanol in it. I still buy 100% gas from gas stations that sell it. Go to for a list of stations that sell 100% gas in your state.

August 19 2012 at 11:30 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Making fuel out of corn is maybe the dumbest idea ever, and that is saying a lot considering many idiots sitting in Congress with absolutely no sense !

August 19 2012 at 7:34 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

When I burn Alcohol in my car I get 2-3 mpg less than straight Gas. I can't see how this is helping us.

August 18 2012 at 9:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply