Chicago Tribune: Crop Politics

October 7, 2013

October 5 – This is harvest season in the heartland, and another big corn crop is pouring into the bins. Amid the abundance, however, trouble lurks.

Because of government policies that promote turning corn into ethanol fuel for cars, farmers have taken to planting as much corn as possible.

Corn is America's biggest cash crop by far, and across most of the Midwest it is the most profitable by far. Because roughly 40 percent of the crop is being diverted into gas tanks, a bushel of corn fetches a much higher price today than it did before the government-subsidized ethanol boom.

Even when prices drop during abundant harvests, as they have in recent weeks, the profits for an acre of corn often still exceed those for soybeans, wheat and other alternative crops that might be grown on the same highly productive land.

No surprise, the government's pro-corn agenda has produced unwanted side effects. Livestock producers who depend on corn for animal feed have cut back their herds. That's a big reason why meat is more expensive in grocery stores and restaurants these days.