Let this be the last word on the Iowa caucuses.
Believe me, no one is happier to have this quadrennial event over. For years, we’ve seen presidential candidates from both parties go to Iowa and make like pigs, rolling around in the mud or doing any other trick to endear themselves with the Hawkeye caucuses.
Were it not for those Iowa voters and all those busloads of starving presidential candidates, we never would have seen $45 billion in ethanol subsidies paid to the corn industry over the past 30 years.
Now the 45-cent per gallon ethanol subsidy is ending, and the fact that Congress made that decision in the middle of the Hawkeye caucus campaign makes it all the more amazing.
Having spent three of the longest years of my life in Iowa, I know what every corn farmer in the state knew before Uncle Sam turned on the ethanol spigot in 1980. The little secret: corn makes piss-poor fuel.
It makes a gasoline engine run inefficiently and reduces gas mileage. No one in his or her right mind would buy gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol. Farmers knew it.
Some food writers have also blamed the ethanol subsidy for the increase in the use of high fructose corn syrup by food manufacturers. Fewer Iowa farmers probably understood the possible price influences government tariffs and subsidies were having on sugar and corn during the past 30 years.
Our consumption of corn syrup peaked at about 45 pounds in 1999, and since has fallen off to just over 35 pounds.
Iowa did know putting $6 billion a year out there to buy corn for fuel was impacting the corn market in big ways. Some say the problem was the surpluses ethanol demand created, and others say it was driving up corn prices, making a staple unaffordable for the world’s poor.
Deciding to end the ethanol subsidy on Dec. 31, before Iowa 2012, occurred not because the farmers spoke up and said they’d done wrong, but because they mostly stood around looking at their feet when the subject came up.
In the past, ethanol was the junkyard dog of presidential candidates, genuflecting before Iowa voters, but this year it did not even bark as the Republican campaigns paid it no mind.
Instead, Iowa farmers are enjoying the prosperity of high land prices, and ethanol producers figure they can make it so long as gasoline prices don’t decline.
Killing the subsidy and ending the 54-cent tariff on sugar ethanol from Brazil goes a long way toward righting the wrong. Congress still has its 2020 mandate for 36 million gallons of alternative fuel out there. One hopes the next generation of biofuels won’t compete with world food demand.
Now if they’d just get the 10 percent ethanol out of our gasoline.