Biofuels Expert Visits Portland

Libby Tucker interviews Josh Tickell, author of “From the Fryer to the Fuel Tank,” in the Daily Journal of Commerce.

Just a taste: Tucker on the food vs. fuel debate about use of farmland:

What are we going to do when it’s food versus fuel? The United States has 60 million acres of fallow cropland we pay farmers not to grow on. There’s a massive potential to produce biofuels in this country without touching the food supply. We also lose 350 farms a week so it’s not like we’ve got an overwhelmingly successful farm economy.

We have the worst farm economy in the developed world. Every per capita income from every other major industrialized nation in terms of farming is better than us. In terms of correcting that situation it would make sense to create products that can be sold and consumed in the United States so we’re not floating our economy based on world demand and supply, which is what we’re doing now.

8 responses to “Biofuels Expert Visits Portland”

  1. I think it’s foolish to claim that the income of American farmers can be increased by increasing crop demand. The difference between American and European farmers’ incomes has everything to do with how those farmers and their societies have organized to protect their interests in their economies. If biofuels became a big business in America, the large agribusinesses who dominate all other agriculture would certainly dominate biofuels too. There’s a lot we can do to reverse the consolidation of American farming, but switching to biofuels is not one of them.

    What does “floating our economy based on world demand and supply” mean, anyway?

  2. “The United States has 60 million acres of fallow cropland we pay farmers not to grow on.”

    We haven’t done anything like that in the last 10 years:
    “Cropland used for crops increased dramatically in 1996, the year the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act took effect. Under the FAIR Act, land previously set aside in Federal acreage reduction programs became available for crops.”

    Maybe he is referring the the Conservation Reserve Program, which doesn’t have anything to do with keeping land fallow for price reasons:
    “The Conservation Reserve Program reduces soil erosion, protects the Nation’s ability to produce food and fiber, reduces sedimentation in streams and lakes, improves water quality, establishes wildlife habitat, and enhances forest and wetland resources.”

    As for, “floating our economy based on world demand and supply,” as long as people keep breeding, and the population of the world keeps goes up, demand will go up. Supply is going to go down, we aren’t getting any more land on this planet, GM foods hasn’t/won’t changed the yields much, and the last major increase in yields was the addition of chemical fertilizer, (made from Natural Gas,) which has become more and more expensive, (we’ve started to import some of our fertilizer from the middle east,) and eventually farmers are going to have to stop using it, which means the supply of food is going to go down. A month ago the government of Mexico was looking into why corn prices were rising so fast, (cause it was making tortillas expensive,) and they (rightly) blamed ethanol. We are already food vs fuel today, switching the entire country to B5 is going to price half the planet out of food.

  3. I have heard that hay for livestock has gone from $1.50 per bale to $8 per bale in Colorado due to farmers growing biofuel instead of hay for livestock.

    Can anyone verify that?

    I haven’t seen much farm land sitting fallow. Most of it is being worked like a dog to grow stuff.

    I’ve heard that it takes nearly a gallon of petroleum-based fuel to produce a gallon of ethanol. Any truth to that?

    I hear BioDiesel is more efficient to produce than ethanol, but I think it is mostly a way for those driving diesel-guzzlers to feel better about being bad citizens.

    So, Biofuels are a bunch of hype and greenwashing? What will work? Try these:
    1) Add $5 tax to each gallon of petro fuel.
    2) Outlaw any vehicle that gets less than 40 mpg.
    3) Mandate carpooling.

    These solutions will produce RESULTS, not hype and hot air debating whether they’ll work because there is NO debate on these solutions.

    From page 1 of M.Scott Pecks book, “The Road Less Travelled”; Life is a series of problems. Do we want to solve them or whine about them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?

    Get busy.

  4. I think it’s foolish to claim that the income of American farmers can be increased by increasing crop demand.

    I don’t think there is any doubt that increased demand leads to increased prices leads to increased income – assuming there is not a corresponding increase in the cost of production. And higher prices mean that a farmer can produce more income from the same amount of land and labor – which are the two commodities small farmers have as inputs.

  5. 1) Add $5 tax to each gallon of petro fuel.
    2) Outlaw any vehicle that gets less than 40 mpg.
    3) Mandate carpooling.

    This will almost cause outright revolution in America. Most of America has already dissassociated real market costs and responsibility for transportation.

    But I digress, just paying for use would cause vast and major changes. Paying for use is a much more moral, valid, functional, and logical argument to have for Americans than to put in place oppressive and socialistic mandates. Americans tend to like to let the markets do the job instead, since it is vastly better at doing the “mean” things than the Government.


    1) Make the roads pay for themselves, instate tolls to cover new construction, maintenance, and safety (policing). Privatize it and it’ll cost less than what a horrendous $5 dollars per gallon would cost. In addition, tax the oil companies the same as other corporations. Make them responsible for their own damage (aka bad drilling practice) and other such things. Simply put, if the Government would do WHAT IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO people would realize the costs because the market would properly reflect the cost by fees a charges. If its subsidized 99% of people are gonna be clueless to the real costs and keep on thinking it’s a cheap way to get around.

    2) Vehicles that gets less than 40 mpg become used by only those that would need such a vehicle (such as farmers, construction workers, etc – commuters in large scale (the vast majority of road users) would change en masse to more efficient vehicles or directly to transit alternatives). No reason to make laws to punish those people, let actual market costs do what they do – which functionally will be punishing people for bad choices, technological necessity, etc. The incentive to FIX the innefficient vehicles then becomes a massive “private entity” concern instaed of just a moral and Government issue (which generally doesn’t get things done to fix the problems without oppressively taking force against people – force being NOT COOL!)

    3) Carpooling becomes a logical necessity along with increased transit usage (at market value instead of subsidized value). Logically placing the country back into a place where the market would naturally take care of cleaning up our transportation methods.

    In addition other benifits include, lower costs to society as a whole, lower time in transport as supply and demand and truly taken into consideration again and regulated by availability vs. political pull.

  6. I for one would like to see a nice increase in the State Wide Gas Tax with an additions of new County Wide Gas Taxes. I do not see that it is fair to have City Gas Taxes as it is hard to maintain a fair pricing structure between one service station to another without someone getting gorred and that person most often would be the general public.

    Lets not play games with all sorts of BS methods that will put one group against another. The gas tax is a simple way to collect a user fee and the size of government does not have to change. If you do not drive much or do not drive at all you pay NO money money or very little. The price of gas goes up and the general public starts paying more for the use of motorized vehicles. This is a type of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) that works but freedom of choice is still with the person.

  7. Adron, your post was written poorly enough that I could not decipher most of it. But I get your gist: you don’t give a shit about weaning the whining babies in America from their gas hogs. I think you want them to pay “fair market prices” for their fuel. OK, add on the costs of the US military presence in the middle east to ensure access to that middle east oil. Then, add on the future cost of fu–ing up the atmosphere of the planet with excess CO2 and suddenly a barrel of oil from the middle east goes for around $500 per barrel. Fair enough. Write your congressman/senator and tell ’em to get off their lazy ass and get ‘er done. I like it.

  8. Biodeiesel might be an appropriate alternative for larger equipment, but I think for moving people we need to look more to electric power.

    For example, the Great Lakes region has enormous potential for windfarms and could be a bilateral cooperation project. It also has a large enough market that costs could be brought down to make windpower more affordable for developing countries–like Iran for example. This would get the world off the trend to nuclear power generation, which is going to prove to be an ever greater security nightmare.

    The Pacific Northwest not only has wave power potential, but also microhydro potential in some mountain regions. Vancouver Island has already been building a large number of microhydro projects. Puget Sound and Strait of Georgia has tidal power potential.

    I think it will take some creativity but electric cars–perhaps with small diesels for highway travel–would get us off the fossil fuel treadmill really quick. See:

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