Cellulosic ethanol: not likely to be viable

New study from mainstream ag economists at Iowa State

Cellulosic ethanol represents a beacon on the horizon — the justification cited by wiseguys like Vinod Khosla for dropping billions per year in public cash to prop up corn ethanol production. Corn ethanol, you see, is a bridge to a bright cellulosic future. But the beacon is looking more and more like a mirage, a ghost, a specter; the bridge we’re hurtling down may well lead to a chasm. A quiet consensus seems to be forming among people you’d think would know the facts on the ground: cellulosic ethanol, touted as five years away from viability for decades now, may …

Biofuel blight: tastes great, less filling

Alcohol refinery may enhance tourist industry

Tourists, bird watchers, and native cattle herders in Kenya's Tana River delta may soon have a spanking-new alcohol refinery in the middle of their wetland. Granted, the wetland will be slightly less wet because a third of its water will be diverted to cropland. Always one to look for a silver lining, I would hope that this refinery will include an air-conditioned bar where tourists and herders alike can gather for happy hour after a long, hot day of wildlife viewing and cattle herding. Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (and might I add, a real pessimist) claims: Large areas would become ecological deserts. The Delta is a wildlife refuge with cattle herders depending on it for centuries as well. There is no commitment to mitigation for the damage that will be done and no evidence that local incomes will be in any way improved. *Cough*loser*cough*! Excuse me. Here, Richard Branson, after publicly admitting that his investments in corn ethanol were a mistake, goes on to say: "But, ah, there are countries in the world like Africa [actually a continent], um, like Mozambique, where they have got sugarcane plantations lying wasted, doing nothing ..."

Forbidden fruits (and vegetables)

Why the USDA wants to stop local food

This is one of those "in case you missed it" kind of posts. In yesterday's New York Times, Minnesota farmer Jack Hedin wrote an op-ed that shows very clearly how the federal deck is stacked against small, sustainable, local farms and in favor of Earl Butz's "get-big-or-get-out" mentality. The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on "corn base" acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program. I never ceased to be amazed at the all-encompassing power of the Golden Rule (The One Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules).

It's bloomin' idiotic

Can words describe how bad corn ethanol is?

Well, maybe my words can't describe how bad corn ethanol is, or Mayor Bloomberg's, or those of top scientists, but I think I have found someone's words that do: Opus's from Bloom Country. First, however, the lastest grim news from Fortune: "The ethanol boom is running out of gas as corn prices spike." Yes, "plans for as many as 50 new ethanol plants have been shelved in recent months." Why? Spurred by an ethanol plant construction binge, corn prices have gone stratospheric, soaring from below $2 a bushel in 2006 to over $5.25 a bushel today. As a result, it's become difficult for ethanol plants to make a healthy profit, even with oil at $100 a barrel. If you can't make money with oil at $100 a barrel, you are not much of an alternative fuel. But I know what you're thinking -- if corn ethanol is so bad, what's wrong with plants being scrapped? Well, the corn ethanol business is here to stay. The corn ethanol mandate from the most recent energy bill requires doubling supply from current levels. Fortune explains what that means:

Genetically modified fruits and veggies in U.S.?

Forbes says that Frankenfruits are already here

In the mid-’90s, amid much fuss, a biotech firm called Calgene introduced the Flav’r Saver tomato. Genetically engineered to last longer on the shelf, the Flav’r Saver didn’t turn out to have much “flav’r” to save. To make a long story short, consumers generally steered clear of it; farmers had trouble growing it; Calgene burned hundreds of millions developing and marketing it; and eventually ended up tossing it on history’s compost pile. In the end, Monsanto ended up buying Calgene at a fire-sale price. Not many people ever ate a Flav’r Saver tomato; but the tomato in effect ate a …

One hell of a company

Monsanto uses child labor in its Indian cottonseed fields

Photo: iStockphoto Monsanto dominates the global seed industry and churns out $1 billion a year in profit. Investors are so enamored of its market power and profitability that they’ve bid up its share price by nearly 1500 percent since 2004. So why does Monsanto rely on farms that use child labor to cultivate its genetically modified cotton seeds in India? From Forbes Magazine: Yothi Ramulla Naga is 4 feet tall. From sunup to sundown she is hunched over in the fields of a cottonseed farm in southern India, earning 20 cents an hour. Farmers in the Uyyalawada region process high-tech …

There will be ethanol

Archer Daniels Midland will squeeze out competition, says Fortune

Record corn prices aren’t just squeezing consumers. They’re also hurting the ethanol industry — yes, the very folks whose ravenous appetite for corn drove up prices in the first place. From Fortune Magazine: Cargill announces it’s scrapping plans for a $200 million ethanol plant near Topeka, Kan. A judge approves the bankruptcy sale of an unfinished ethanol plant in Canton, Ill.. And that was just Tuesday. Indeed, plans for as many as 50 new ethanol plants have been shelved in recent months, as Wall Street pulls back from the sector. What’s up? Didn’t the government recently bail out the industry …

Fishing for hope at a seafood-industry trade show

Photo: Chris Seufert Viewed from a distance, the Boston Convention Center looks a bit like a great white whale — an appropriate setting for the annual International Boston Seafood Show. The building’s vast interior offers great vistas for people-watching, often through huge glass windows. People move through the hallways and aisles in large groups; watching them was a bit like gawking at schools of fish through the glass pane of the giant tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. What sort of species were on display in this human fishbowl? Academic and NGO types darted about here and there, but industry …


TV chef Emeril Lagasse kicks it up a notch.

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