I stood at the counter of my local MFA feed store to purchase 25 pounds of black oil sunflower seeds. Usually the most reasonable place in town to purchase my bird seed, I was surprised to see the register display $11.67, especially since the last time I purchased seed, the price was $7.95 + tax per 25 pound bag. I know that within the last year that I have paid $9.95 for a 50 pound bag of sunflower seeds there. Without a prompt from me, a young lady employed by the store asked, “Why has that price gone up so much lately?” My comeback was quick. “Must be making ethanol with them.” “That’s right”, said the worker at the cash register. “Corn prices are way up, too,“ he continued, “They say everyone with any available land will be growing corn next year. That will bring the price down again.” (Editor's note: I have determined since that it's not that farmers are making ethanol from sunflowers, but that they are taking land out of sunflower production to grow the higher profit crop, corn. So, next year both the price of sunflower seeds and corn will be even higher)
After I lifted the bag to my shoulder, I felt a heavy burden, but it wasn’t the sunflower seeds. How in the world did this happen? Didn’t anyone in government read the results of numerous studies stating that the production of ethanol uses more energy than the resulting fuel delivers? That alone should have been enough to stop any thoughts of government subsidies and promotion of this destructive technology. Instead, Republicans and Democrats alike jumped on the ethanol bandwagon, further weakening an already addicted fossil fuel nation with an incredibly ridiculous government energy program that pays corporations to establish ethanol plants and gives no thought or credibility to energy conservation measures and renewable energy sources.
As milk approaches $5.00 per gallon and food prices continue to rise, people will begin to realize that they again have been fleeced by agribusiness, energy corporations, and the U.S. government.
As their miles per gallon of fuel drop as a result of ethanol in the tank, people will begin to realize the cost of ethanol in reduced fuel efficiency.
But we still haven’t uncovered the true cost of ethanol production. To take essential food products and convert them to fuel production for use by citizens of an addicted fossil fuel nation must go against what most of us believe about feeding the hungry. It simply shows no regard for the future of this nation or world. Perhaps that’s the true cost.
But, I don’t think so. As a conservationist, I believe that perhaps the most deleterious aspect of the whole ethanol travesty is the fact that land placed in corn, soybean, and sunflower production cannot support sustainable grasses. This results in a downward spiral of grassland species of all kinds and overall soil fertility. Where Conservation Reserve Programs manage critical habitat responsibly to sustain grasslands, prairie playas, and grassland wildlife populations, ethanol production programs totally eliminate the possibility of the recovery of prairies and grassland species inhabiting them. In the not too distant future, the end result of plowed fields replacing fertile grasslands, coupled with the droughts that will be induced by rising global temperatures, just may be the greatest cost of all attributed to ethanol production…the desertification of the most fertile ecosystem on Earth, the North American plains.
I am both amazed and haunted whenever I spot a Loggerhead Shrike, a Henslow’s Sparrow, or an Upland Sandpiper.