Despite scrutiny, ethanol still good for Iowa
An article by the Associated Press sparked controversy last week after it scrutinized the ethanol industry for its detrimental effects on the environment. While the article provided readers with some food for thought, it came up short when trying to tell the full story of ethanol's impact on small farming communities like ours.
The authors of the piece certainly gave the industry a stern undressing by highlighting numerous side affects of ethanol production. Destruction of conservation land, polluted water supplies and increased fertilizer usage all topped a long list of detrimental repercussions seen in the wake of the ethanol boom. While these issues have indeed become pertinent topics in the past decade, the article had tunnel vision. Most of its attention was focused on southern Iowa and completely failed to detail areas of the state with more suitable farmland capable of handling the increased demand for corn.
Their reasons for focusing on southern Iowa were obvious. High corn prices have recently led some farmers there to plow up ground that's remained in the Conservation Reserve Program for eons, which caused obvious and immediate problems. The loose, rocky soil in the southern part of the state can't handle heavy crop production like ground elsewhere throughout Iowa. The past two years of erratic weather patterns – one year of extreme drought followed by one year of heavy rainfall – washed away large portions of the top soil there, which then led to issues like erosion and water pollution. This trend created a perfect example for the AP to manipulate and magnify into something larger than probably necessary.
The article hit on many topics, some of which warranted more scrutiny than others. However, one particular issue was indeed head scratching and difficult to comprehend. The report highlighted criticism of the industry for its failure to develop more viable and efficient fuel alternatives, which it claimed was one of the main objectives when politicians began touting ethanol more than 10 years ago. While it might not have lived up to all it's hype, ditching ethanol now could lead to an even greater gap as we search for a cure for our fossil fuel addiction. We need to support our most viable current option and continue to look at more efficient bio fuels for the future.
The article's general lack of patience was also of great concern. It chastised the ethanol industry by emphasizing that production wouldn't have a net positive impact on the environment when compared to fossil fuels until 2022. Admittedly, that time period does seem rather long. However, what other options do we have? It seems like the report threw mud at the wall and hoped it'd stick. People constantly criticize our dependence on foreign oil and other fossil fuels, but they fail to realize it will take a very long time to completely wean ourselves and implement new fuels that help both our pocketbooks and the environment.
Producing fuel and energy always comes at a cost in some way or another. Ethanol has its detriments, but it also has many positives. It's given Iowa a second chance at economic success and helped ailing communities statewide. Demand creates more production plants, and more production plants mean more jobs and more opportunities for farmers. We must continue to investigate other fuel options, but right now ethanol is our best alternative for both Iowa and the entire country.