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Greetings from YERT in Hawaii, our 18th state! As we settle into a new, slower pace here on the Big Island, we have also enjoyed a retro look at the footage from our adventures in Iowa. Yes, we know, it is essentially foolish to spend our time in Hawaii looking at video from Iowa, but the schedule calls, and we answer. Now let’s get down to the corny details…
Ok, we couldn’t help ourselves– we had to take a look at corn in Iowa, and you helped us decide HOW to take that look. In "YERTpoll3: How should we explore ETHANOL in Iowa?" your favorite choices were "Interview corn farmers," and "Visit and ethanol manufacturer." We rolled both of these angles into the latest video, not to mention a "Corn Challenge" with the following rules:
Mark Can only eat corn. No butter, no salt. Just corn.
Ben Can only eat products that contain at least one corn-based ingredient. That appears to include nearly everything processed.
Julie Can eat anything, so long as it includes no corn-based ingredients.
We completed the challenges without sustaining too much damage, and our trials and tribulations around this ancient grass plant forced us to dive deep into surprisingly complex questions surrounding corn: What are the impacts of using food for fuel? Does biofuel generate a positive return on energy input? How do corn subsidies affect our food supply, and our health as a nation? How much water is available to grow plant-based fuel? It seemed that the deeper we dove, the more questions formed in our heads.
While we don’t have rock solid answers, we do have a few reflections on all of this. Hopefully these thoughts will help you navigate the terrain yourself:
– Reflection #1: You may want to ask your elected representatives about the energy input/output ratio of biofuels. There is such a wide range of answers to this question that the only thing we truly know is that we need better answers.
– Reflection #2: Products with processed corn-based additives generally come in packaging (waste) and sit on shelves for a while (preservatives). I suppose that if corn wasn’t essentially the cheapest form of edible biomass we’d find other cheaper ingredients to preserve our foods. How much processed corn do you want to put into your body? If you can eat it, does that make it food?
– Reflection #3: Subsidies etched into the Farm Bill have more to do with our lives and diets than YERT ever imagined. Keep an eye on this legislation and let the government know your thoughts on the matter. A recent article here indicates that the Farm Bill will hit the Senate floor any moment now.
That’s all for now– we’re gonna hit the beach for a few days of actual vacation on this beautiful cluster of islands, so don’t hold your breath for the next blog or video, but we’ll jump back on schedule in Nevada, our next state.
Julie, Ben, and Mark (Your YERT Team)
P.S. And now for Breadcrumbs! If you want to learn more about the topics in this video, check out these resources:
- Lincoln Way Ethanol Plant – John and Randy showed us around a real, live ethanol plant in Iowa. It seemed to work like a giant brewery, except that the output wasn’t food grade. Technically.
- Associate Professor Robert Anex – Associate Director, Office of Biorenewables at Iowa State University. We were hoping that Professor Anex would be able to give us the definitive answer about the energy input to output ratio of corn-based ethanol, but no luck. Despite his brilliance and ease with the topic of advanced biofuels, we couldn’t get him to give us a firm answer– because the answer depends primarily on the input assumptions. Nonetheless, we think you’ll appreciate his insights. We certainly did. Read more about his research here.
- BECON – Keith Kutz, Administrative Specialist, Iowa Energy Center. These folks turn corn (and other biomass) into all sorts of things.