Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Harvesting Dependency...


One question... if we can pump it out of the ground, why grow it above? The idea of growing 'gasoline' (as ethanol) on otherwise arable food cropland, has never made a lick of sense to this old farm boy. Are we to believe that the world, in its entirety is so well fed, that we can surrender millions of acres of fertile land to the production of fuel for commerce and industry? Many would have us believe that to be a wise choice, arguing that farm production is currently suffering an abundance of yield. Supply is high, and produce prices are simply too low for most farmers to maintain a sustainable profit margin in the area of food production. Perhaps it is presently the case. But, is there not an inherent danger in encouraging the conversion of food production to infinitely more lucrative fuel production?

Recently, both Oregon and Washington implemented California's LEV II Standards for lower emissions. It includes a requirement for the mandatory distribution of ethanols and biodiesel products in place of so-called fossil-fuels... namely petroleum products. In the interests of Oregon, and in accordance with certain Sustainability principals (see Conservation Economics), the intention is for this state to convert much of its agricultural industry to fuel production, according to Oregon Business Magazine,

Biodiesel is a processed vegetable oil that can be made from canola and mustard seed, both of which grow well in Oregon. It can be used in a pure (100%) or blended form to power diesel engines — from cars and trucks, to tractors and off-road vehicles. The version that's available in Oregon right now is B-20 (20% biodiesel, 80% petroleum diesel). Biodiesel delivers a double whammy: Diesel engines get much better mileage than gasoline combustion engines (the new Volkswagen diesel cars are pushing 50 mpg), and biodiesel is renewable, reducing the amount of carbon that's pumped from deep under the ground and released into the atmosphere when it's burned in a car or truck.

Until now, virtually all the biodiesel sold in Oregon has come by rail from the Midwest, with a freight premium added for shipping. Beginning this fall, SeQuential Biodiesel (investors include Kettle Foods founder Cameron Healy and singer Willie Nelson) will produce 1 million to 4 million gallons of biodiesel a year at a new plant in Portland. "The feedstock — canola, mustard seed and used cooking oil — will be grown in Oregon, and it'll be consumed here as well," says SeQuential's Tomas Endicott, who predicts that the Oregon biodiesel market will double annually for the next several years. "This keeps money in Oregon and in the U.S.," says Endicott. "It doesn't get any more sustainable than that."

In the Willamette Valley the competition for farmland is indeed intense. Agricultural land is being surrendered on a daily basis to suburban development in the form of housing, commercial and retail uses. Additionally grape production for wine-making is a rapidly growing concern consuming traditional farmlands. Now, while grapes are fruit and wine is technically an agricultural product, I submit to you that wine, no matter how desirable, is not food. In addition, and in accordance with certain sustainable principals, renewable materials crops are also beginning to compete for agricultural land. Varieties of bamboo, species of genetically engineered lumber, and rye grasses to name a few, are products that may all prove to be a more economically attractive means of agricultural production in the near future. Consider that asthe land is converted accordingly, few mechanisms will exists to encourage it back to food production once the demand has locked the process of supply in a precarious new direction. This consideration would seem to have fostered U.N. concern, in one of the institutions quite rare cogent moments...

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Rising production of biofuels from crops might complicate U.N. goals of ending hunger in developing countries, where 850 million people do not have enough to eat, a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.

"There's a huge potential for biofuels but we have to look at ... competition with food production," said Alexander Mueller, assistant Director General of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Production of fuels from sugar, maize, soybeans and other corps is surging, spurred by oil prices above $70 a barrel and a drive for more environmentally friendly fuels from renewable sources. "This is a completely new issue, we only know that this has impact on the question of feeding the world," he told a news conference during a meeting of 1,500 water experts in Stockholm

Wheat sells for a few dollars per bushel, while bio-fuels can yield upwards of $70 dollars per barrel. Building products, always in high demand tease various degrees of monetary success, while tightening restrictions and regulations encourage a broadening market for both of those sustainable products. A widespread conversion is already taking place across the United States and other parts of the globe. The U.N. is right to be worried about the implications of decreasing food production. Its humanitarian mission to feed the misfortunate masses of the world may indeed be in jeopardy, when fuel is cheap relative to a seventy dollar loaf of bread, and corn is exclusively refined into Citco barrels instead of being packed into Del Monte cans.

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