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  Texas : Features : Humor : Column - "A Balloon In Cactus"

The Corn is
as High as an Elephant's Eye

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
Oscar Hammerstein II probably didn't realize when he wrote the lyrics for Broadway hit "Oklahoma!" that "The corn is as high as an elephant's eye," were prophetic words. Corn, at $4.21 a bushel (as of January 17), is high indeed, corn futures have risen ten per cent this year, the most since 1949, and may rise another five per cent in 2008. We can thank the U.S. ethanol market for driving the prices so high.

Is it unreasonable to think that the Mexican people should be able to have their customary corn tortillas at mealtime? It seems so. Politics has again reared its ugly head, and this time, the platform is "Corn produces ethanol and ethanol fuels automobiles!"

This is great news for big corn producers like Argentina, which will now enter global markets that the U.S. will have to abandon. It could also mean good times are ahead for small-scale Mexican farmers who have a hard time competing with American agribusiness. And since prices of other agricultural commodities will also go up (wheat prices will rise as wheat byproducts replace the livestock feed of corn) -- farmers of all kinds will stand to benefit.

This is rapidly becoming one of the biggest stories in global agriculture. There's gold in them thar ethanol plants -- as long as the price of oil hovers around $60 a barrel and incentives for ethanol production and tariffs hiking the price of imported ethanol remain in place, says internet magazine Salon.com.

Tyson Foods announced that "rising corn prices could mean U.S. consumers will have to pay more for chicken, beef and pork next year than in 2007."

Tyson CEO Richard Bond said that "meat producers, processors and retailers will have to pass the higher grain price on to consumers because they cannot absorb it in their profit margins."

It seems somehow unfair that chickens get the corn while the Mexican poor do not. Who would have thought people would be using corn for something other than tortillas and moonshine?

Tortillas have been selling for as high as 10 pesos per kilo in Mexico. President Calderon has signed an accord with businesses limiting tortilla prices to 8.50 pesos per kilo with jail terms being threatened of up to ten years for business officials found hoarding corn.

"The unjustifiable price rise of this product threatens the economy of millions of families," President Calderon said. "We won't tolerate speculators or monopolists. We'll apply the law with firmness and punish those who take advantage of people's need."

If the people of Tijuana get caught selling corn for more pesos than the President's set price, you can't expect the cops to do much about it. The government has taken all the guns away from the police in that city for a ballistics check and replaced them with slingshots. I'm not making this up. It's true. The Tijuana cops are using slingshots. I wonder what they're putting in the slingshots for ammunition. Corn kernels?

Since science knows how to obtain ethanol from other sources, like orange peels, sweet potatoes, poplar trees and even trash, why not leave corn for tortillas?

It doesn't work as fuel anyway. I tried sticking an ear of corn in the gas tank and my car just sat there.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" >
January 29, 2007 column
Email: maggie@maggievanostrand.com
 
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