First it was dairy…

…and now, of course, it’s flour. No surprise there since farmers like all other business people are driven by profit. If corn is where the money is and they have the option to grow it, then they’ll grow it. That of course leaves less land on which to grow other things, like wheat, which means the price of flour goes up. Which means the price of everything made with flour goes up. Did lawmakers on Capitol Hill see this one coming when they mandated a giant buy of an inefficient corn-based fuel that the market doesn’t, and may never, really want? I rather doubt it. In the meantime we’ll all be digging deeper for everything baked.

Funny, I frequently lament not being a full-time practitioner of the baking arts anymore. But nowadays, with carb hysteria and transfat hysteria and dairy prices and flour prices…who in their right mind would want to be? My hat goes off to all the brave and hardy souls out there still managing to make a go of it.

Though there’s no immediate relief from any of this in sight, the good news is that a spate of new advances in fuel-making technology may provide viable alternatives to corn-based ethanol. New processes for producing ethanol from wood chips, trash and old tires are being developed, as are fermentation-based methods for creating truly ground-breaking fuels like butanol (which reduce car emissions by 87% over ethanol’s 18-28%). Both are unfortunately several years away from being commercially viable, yet the very fact that there are other, likely better, alternatives to corn ethanol in the proverbial pipe may be enough to bring a few select members of Congress back to their senses.

All of which is not to say I’m against corn farmers making money. I’m very much for it, however it’s a fact that the current bubble in corn prices is, well, a bubble. Worse than that, it’s a government-created bubble, which means it could pop at any moment, leaving tens of thousands of farmers who are currently investing in the ethanol boom hanging out to dry. We’ve already seen something not entirely unlike this. It happened in the 1980’s, when over-confident farmers emboldened by pie-in-the-sky economic predictions snapped up land and equipment they couldn’t afford. The result was an agricultural cataclysm that no amount of Farm-Aid concerts will ever be able to make up for.

So what am I doing here ranting about geeky science and economics when I’m supposed to be on vacation??? Good question I’ll talk to ya later.

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