Tuesday, June 06, 2006


The Yellow Peril (Ethanomania)

GEORGE NAYLOR, WASHINGTON POST LETTER - The ethanol fuel boom in Iowa can seem intoxicating, but it is misleading to claim that Iowa farmers in general have benefited. Unless you have been an "investor" in an ethanol plant during recent times of expensive petroleum, the only way a farmer has participated in the ethanol program has been by producing cheap corn and relying on government subsidies to survive.

The Iowa Corn Growers Association. . . has promoted ethanol for more than 30 years. It even sounded reasonable to me when I was a young farmer on the first Iowa Corn Promotion Board in 1978. Now, with catastrophic oil prices and corn prices lower than when I started farming 30 years ago, it would be hard to imagine ethanol plants not being profitable.

Unfortunately, the legacy of the cheap-corn subsidy system is an Iowa landscape of ghost towns and environmental degradation, with corn and soybeans produced from horizon to horizon, interspersed with polluting industrial livestock operations. Boomtowns have never been known for their contributions to morality or culture and often not even for their contribution to long-term prosperity.

Without sound energy and agricultural policies that ensure that farmers get a fair price for their products, ethanol may be the illusory pot of gold at the end of the agribusiness rainbow.

[George Naylor is President of the National Family Farm Coalition]

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