Maggie Van Ostrand
as High as an Elephant's Eye
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
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
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.
Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
29, 2007 column