An interesting piece was posted on the AgWeb.com web site that I thought made a pretty good argument in the food-versus-fuel debate.
Greg Anderson, a family farmer who grows soybeans near Newman Grove, Nebraska (and serves as an ex-officio member of the United Soybean Board Executive Committee) makes some pretty strong arguments that there is not a great food shortage brought on by the rise in popularity of biodiesel:
Historically, surplus soybean oil supplies dragged down the overall price of soybeans. There was, and still is, plenty of soybean oil for meeting the demands of food production. But the surplus needed to be utilized. That’s why the soybean checkoff helped develop the U.S. biodiesel industry through research funding to find new uses for soybean oil. One of those uses was soy biodiesel. Over time, the industry grew and provided great new opportunities for U.S. soybean farmers, not to mention increased energy security and environmental benefits for us all. This helped boost demand for soybeans, but not at the risk of sacrificing food use.
So where is the soybean oil going?
In reality, food production is still the number one use for soybean oil worldwide. In the United States, 87 percent of domestic soybean oil still goes to food production. Biodiesel is not the number one customer for soybean oil – food production is.
Let’s not forget the other major component of soybeans – soybean meal. A soybean checkoff-funded study shows the increased demand for soybean oil for all of its uses can lead to an increase in the amount of soybean meal available, a protein-rich source for feed.
Anderson goes on to point out that without biofuels, gas and diesel prices would be even higher because of the supply biodiesel and ethanol add to the mix. And that’s not just a backer of soybeans talking. He’s getting his information from Merrill Lynch.
I thought this line from his last paragraph made the best point:
The good news in all of this is that U.S. soybean farmers will continue to produce enough soybeans to meet the demands for food, feed and fuel. Farmers still focus on feeding the world first – they always have and always will.