“Farmer Johnson, Plant More Corn”

Michael Giberson

If you haven’t had your fill of ethanol-and-the-high-price-of-food-everywhere stories, today the Washington Post takes a look from the point of view of an Iowa farmer.

Johnson is a one-person summary of how high corn prices are washing through the world of agriculture and climate change. Normally, he plants half of his 900 acres with corn and half with soybeans. He alternates crops on each field because it is better for the soil.

But last year he planted 500 acres of corn and 400 of soybeans, and this year he will do the same. “The market was screaming, ‘Farmer Johnson, plant more corn, plant more corn,’ ” Johnson says.

Well, the market may be screaming for more corn, but much of it is due to the hard, swift kick in the bushel-basket delivered by Congress:

In 2005, the Republican-led Congress and President Bush backed a bill that required widespread ethanol use in motor fuels. Just four months ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed and Bush signed energy legislation that boosted the mandate for minimum corn-based ethanol use to 15 billion gallons, about 10 percent of motor fuel, by 2015. It was one of the most popular parts of the bill, appealing to farm-state lawmakers and to those worried about energy security and eager to substitute a home-grown energy source for a portion of U.S. petroleum imports. To help things along, motor-fuel blenders receive a 51 cent subsidy for every gallon of corn-based ethanol used through the end of 2010; this year, production could reach 8 billion gallons.

The article is part four in a series on high food costs around the world.