665 views 4 commentslast update:6 Aug 2012

Worried about popcorn

Dick Ziggers
I am worried about popcorn. If I go to the US next year will I still be able to buy a family bucket of this crunchy food for a reasonable price?

I am worried about popcorn. If I go to the US next year will I still be able to buy a family bucket of this crunchy food for a reasonable price?
I mean, look at the Mexicans. Thousands of union members, farmers and left oriented political groups protested against the price increase of corn, the basic ingredient for Mexico’s national food the tortilla.
When Mexico joined the North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA in 1994 American farmers started to dump their subsidised corn on the Mexican market. Many small farmers could not survive this market power and the corn fields became the playground of a few large companies.
The current high corn prices, due to the subsidised shift in demand for food and feed corn to corn for ethanol production, forces poor Mexicans to tighten their belts because they cannot afford the more expensive tortillas anymore.

Energy balance


But there are more worries. People in the ethanol business want us to believe that turning corn into ethanol is a profitable business from an energy point of view. Proof is weak and scientists arguing for the opposite are finding it difficult to be heard. Or am I too negative now and influenced by outdated information?
Students at Berkely university examined a few studies on energy pathways in ethanol production and came to the conclusion that it is already clear that large-scale use of ethanol for fuel will almost certainly require cellulosic technology.

Cellulose magic


Cellulose is the magical word for future energy production. There is a slight problem though; plant cell wall material is composed of three important constituents: cellulose, lignin, and hemicellulose. Lignin is particularly difficult to biodegrade, and reduces the bioavailability of the other cell wall constituents.
But science is moving forward and on a laboratory scale BTX Holdings managed to strip starch from wheat straw from a 2.82% content in the basic material to more than 45% after processing, using relatively very low levels of energy.

Hopefully this development continues so that I don’t have to line up with food coupons to get a supersized extra large bucket of popcorn next year.

 

4 comments

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    joe harroun

    Your dealing with commodity price risk management remains a very low priority. While your article was light hearted and enjoyable to read. The fact remains December corn is at record high levels. Truly, I believe if you had the network expertise and interest, could provide useful information about this sector grain consumption pattern, which remains the largest consumer segment for coarse grains world wide.

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    Warren Clark

    Dick, I know that you know the difference between popcorn vs. field corn vs. food corn and that popcorn and food corn are neither used for ethanol production.

    So, isn’t the real story how much land, if any, would be pulled from popcorn and food corn production? Given the higher returns on both of these food products, my guess is the answer is ZERO, and perhaps because of increasing demand, the acreage for each will increase in 2007. That, I believe, might be an interesting story…

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    Ron Riley

    I certainly hope that before we choose ethanol as a solution to our energy problem, that we carefully consider the effects on food prices and the environment. We are already seeing increased prices in the US and in countries like Guatemala, the conversion of enviromentally fragile areas (such as the Peten) into corn fields in order to meet demand could be a very risky action.

  • Larry Whetstone

    Dick. USDA stats indicate that Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus Tuberosus, will out produce Corn 3X1, in alcohol production, per acre. JA may be grown in marginal soils, with few inputs, on a perenial basis up to 3 years.Tops can be harvested up to 3 cuts per season. nonGMO Fructose sugar . not starch, is extracted for conversion into advanced nonGMO , biofuels , bioplastics ,biochemicals and nutritious animal feeds. As a member of the Sunflower family the crop has built in drought resistence and may be grown in saline soils.Question is why grow corn?

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