Archive for Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Gulf ‘dead zone’ blamed on corn

June 11, 2008

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— Scientists predicting the biggest-ever "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico are blaming Midwestern corn grown for ethanol for higher levels of pollution escaping down the Mississippi River.

"In the past several years, there's been an expansion of corn, which has the highest fertilizer per acre ... and that's for biofuels." said R. Eugene Turner, a Louisiana State University professor who directed the study into the gulf's water quality.

Turner's research team reported this week that an area of oxygen-deprived water in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to grow to more than 10,000 square miles this year. The largest the area has ever been measured was in 2002, when it was about 8,500 square miles.

Scientists from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium said that this year's "dead zone" could be the largest since measurements began in the 1980s. The scientists used computer modeling for their prediction and will take shipboard measurements in July throughout the gulf.

The dead zone is caused by an abundance of nutrients from sources that include fertilizers needed for corn.

"The nutrients act as a fertilizer just like they would in a corn field," causing excessive growth of algae on the ocean floor, Turner said. The algae consumes oxygen, forcing aquatic creatures like fish and shrimp to flee or die.

Comments

Flap Doodle 7 years, 1 month ago

The role of the Bush family in the death of King Tut (1323 BCE) has never been fully explored.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

"If you're not part of the solution, you're the problem."-bozoPut another way:If you're not with us, you're against us.----------------So glad you could join us and once again demonstrate that you have absolutely nothing to contribute to the discussion.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

Bush didn't create this problem, but his policies have done nothing but exacerbate it.If you're not part of the solution, you're the problem.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 7 years, 1 month ago

I thought it was because the people of Missouri and Arkansas were so full of schist!~) KIDding.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

"But those members of Congress whose constituencies are not corn growers (or those brainwashed by Big Corn Industry) have no excuse for supporting this awful non-solution to the oil (and environment) problem."The reason they support it is because programs such as food stamps for the (primarily) urban poor go through the farm bill and the Ag Dept. The coalition of urban poor and farmers wanting subsidies is all that's required to give us the disaster of subsidized ethanol.

Emily Hadley 7 years, 1 month ago

First, the cause of corn fertilizer pollution is obviously FERTILIZER... not corn. Farming methods should be in question here, not the politics of the uses for the crop being grown. If corn can't be sustainably grown, almost any other crop would be more sustainable and should be considered.Second, the 'expansion' quote suggests that biofuels are the primary reason for this corn-related pollution. "Biofuels" do not equal corn ethanol--biofuels are made from many different plant sources. Ethanol is just one, and certainly not the best. It has been the scapegoat in conforming to the Clean Air Act of 1990. "Conforming" to the Act is required for federal funding on road projects. http://www.epa.gov/air/caa/Third, the expansion of ethanol crops pale in comparison to the primary use of Midwestern corn crops as LIVESTOCK FEED. Animals are fed an artificial diet of corn rather than their natural diet of grasses, often because companies can feed subsidized and dumped corn cellulose to tightly-packed animals rather than allow them to graze on open earth.Buy meat that isn't corn fed, or better yet, help the environment MUCH more by eating the darn corn yourself, rather than feeding eight times as much of it to a cow to get the same nutritional return from the cow's meat.(Plus, it takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce 1 lb. of meat; growing 1 lb. of wheat only requires 25 gallons.)Avoid unnecessary corn products such as corn sweeteners, corn oil, and corn-based grain products (cereals, pet food, snacks) and look for grains that are more sustainable.We all pay for corn subsidies with our taxes, and the chemicals that go into corn build up in the meat of the animals we feed it to and eat, in addition to going downstream to the Gulf.

monkeyspunk 7 years, 1 month ago

Luckily subsidies for corn based ethanol are being lowered. According to the new farm bill that was passed in May of this year, subsidies for corn fell from 51 cents per gallon to 45 cents per gallon. Subsidies for cellulosic ethanol crops are being raised to as much as $1.01 per gallon. What is nice about this change is that it doesn't target corn completely. Farmers that grow corn will still get subsidies for the waste (e.g., stalks and cobs) but not for corn-starch that comes from the grain itself. That should ease any shock that will result from this change. A very responsible and measured alteration in my opinion. While the 6 cent decrease probably isn't enough, it is something, and hopefully a sign that the corn growers control over the development of ethanol may be fading. Here's to hope.

mr_economy 7 years, 1 month ago

"The reason they support it is because programs such as food stamps for the (primarily) urban poor go through the farm bill and the Ag Dept. The coalition of urban poor and farmers wanting subsidies is all that's required to give us the disaster of subsidized ethanol."So what's a viable solution? The farm bill is far too entrenched to think about seriously reforming (I saw the valiant, but ultimately futile efforts of Oxfam members for this past FB) or even killing it. We also cannot deny the plight of the urban poor, or the harsh economic conditions faced by (real) farmers. Unfortunately, far too many of what could be necessary farm subsidies wind up going to corporate factory-farm operations.

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 1 month ago

Doesn't algea have any rights to grow? Who is writing articles on 'their' behalf? Don't we need more algea to suck up all the CO2 that the power plants produce? Wasn't Sunflower going to attempt to use algea to mitigate CO2?

kmat 7 years, 1 month ago

http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/05/news/bush_ethanol/index.htm"The energy bill passed by Congress and signed by Bush in December calls for refiners to replace 36 billion gallons of gasoline with ethanol by 2020, up from about 7 billion gallons today. About half of that will come from ethanol made with corn.""That's good if you're a corn farmer, and it's good if you're concerned with national security," Bush said.Here's how you blame Bush for this. He is at fault, along with many others.

Take_a_letter_Maria 7 years, 1 month ago

"No, I think we should all be stepping up to draw the line- it's just that the president happens to be the one with a very good and powerful pencil."Run for the office then bozo. I'd vote for you just to see how that pencil works for you once you're elected.I'm not saying you're not right, but I am pointing out that there are a lot of powerful pencils out there not being moved by anyone on either side of the aisle.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

"Run for the office then bozo. I'd vote for you just to see how that pencil works for you once you're elected."I can't imagine why I would ever want to be president, but even if I did, our political system would never allow anyone become president who would truly shake things up in a rational way. You have to run the gauntlet of corporate interests (including big agriculture) before you can ever get to where Obama and McCain are right now."I'm not saying you're not right, but I am pointing out that there are a lot of powerful pencils out there not being moved by anyone on either side of the aisle."Seems like I have said precisely as much. But it still doesn't give Bush a free pass.

Steve Bunch 7 years, 1 month ago

The dead zone problem and its relation to corn production goes back to the Nixon administration, when Earl Butz introduced corn subsidies that turned supply and demand on its ear. This story is documented in Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma."

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 1 month ago

The algea people aren't writing articles talking about high fishing areas as being 'dead zones.' Where do the fish people get off dissing algea areas as being 'dead?'

mr_economy 7 years, 1 month ago

I can't really blame the politicians in the Corn Belt for supporting ethanol - too many of their constituents are morons who won't support a politician who opposes ethanol subsidies, and it would be nearly impossible to get elected in those areas without pandering to their interests.But those members of Congress whose constituencies are not corn growers (or those brainwashed by Big Corn Industry) have no excuse for supporting this awful non-solution to the oil (and environment) problem.Corn ethanol subsidies are terrible for the environment and ultimately for our economy.

RedwoodCoast 7 years, 1 month ago

Boston: The algae thing is somewhat complex. First, the effluence from the Mississippi flows into the Gulf, forming a surface layer due to its lower density compared to salt water. This cuts off surface oxygen to the water below. Then algae grows and sinks to the bottom where bacteria decompose it, which depletes the oxygen in the deep water. Obviously, fish can't survive without oxygen.Also, someone up there said something about blaming Bush for pollution from fossil fuels. I'm not doing that, but anhydrous ammonia, the primary fertilizer needed to grow corn, is produced from natural gas. I think a refinery in Coffeyville might actually be looking at trying to make it from petroleum somehow.Anhydrous has to be injected into the soil prior to planting corn. This year, much of the corn belt has experienced repeated flooding. When water gets up into fields, it often flushes the entire plowzone into the creek. What is left is undisturbed ground. This means that most if not all of the anhydrous in the fields where this erosion takes place gets washed into the Mississippi drainage system. I have a feeling that the 'dead zone' might be somewhat larger this year due to these conditions.

BrianR 7 years, 1 month ago

"I need a scorecard to keep up with this blame game."A .pdf that we can download would be helpful.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

"It's just that GWB should be the one stepping up to draw the line in the corn field and say no more to fertilizer."No, I think we should all be stepping up to draw the line-- it's just that the president happens to be the one with a very good and powerful pencil.

loki8025 7 years, 1 month ago

I can't stand Bush but this is crazy! What makes you people think that George W. has anything to do with this? The corn situation was going on alot longer than George. I am a rancher west of Lake Clinton. From the moment that ethanol became popular farmers started growing the inedible corn. This country is more worried about the petrol running out before food. George W. has nothing to do with it. We would do it with or without him anyway. and the whole idea of" well he made it worse" doesn't work either. The biz is a money maker. What makes anyone think that a Democrat would make better policies? I said before, I am not sticking up for, I believe, one of the most incompetent presidents of all time. I am just pointing out the fact that money makes the wheel turn and if the money is rolling than the machine will move with or with out the government.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years, 1 month ago

loki8025--While I agree with most of what you say, the mere fact that there are others, Democrats or otherwise, who also do, or would, contribute to this problem can in no way excuse Bush for failing to do anything but exacerbate it.

Emily Hadley 7 years, 1 month ago

2006/07 Iowa Corn Crop Usage1. Animal Feed5.6 billion bushels of corn went to feed animals. Your bacon and egg breakfast, glass ofmilk at lunch, or hamburger for supper were produced with U.S. corn.2. ExportsMore than 2.1 billion bushels of corn fed people and animals in other countries.3. Ethanol2.1 billion bushels of corn were fermented into fuel alcohol. Fuel alcohol makes gasolineburn cleaner, reducing air pollution, and it doesn't pollute the water.4. Corn Sweeteners753 million bushels were refined into corn sweeteners. Read the labels on beverages andfoods to find corn sweeteners in colas, candies, cakes and cookies, lunch meats, jams andjellies, snack foods, salad dressings, and ice cream.http://www.iowacorn.org/cornuse/documents/HowisOurCornCropUsed-0607.pdf-----

Larry Bauerle Jr. 7 years, 1 month ago

I thought we were supposed to blame Bush for gas and oil prices and the pollution related with fossil fuels. I need a scorecard to keep up with this blame game.

Take_a_letter_Maria 7 years, 1 month ago

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus (Anonymous) says: loki8025-While I agree with most of what you say, the mere fact that there are others, Democrats or otherwise, who also do, or would, contribute to this problem can in no way excuse Bush for failing to do anything but exacerbate it.--------------------------------------------------------------------------So as bozo sees it, every member of Congress, along with the President (and the rest of the executive arm), all state level politicians, every farmer (corporate and family), and every CO2 emitting vehicle driving person in the United States is exacerbating the problem. It's just that GWB should be the one stepping up to draw the line in the corn field and say no more to fertilizer.

RedwoodCoast 7 years, 1 month ago

By the way, I just watched a very interesting documentary called 'King Corn.' Two guys from Boston, of all places, move to Iowa and get a farmer to let them grow one acre of corn on his land. The point of them doing this is is to follow the production process through to the consumer process. So they actually fertilize the ground, plant corn, spray pesticides, and harvest their corn. Then they visit an industrial feedlot where they learn that corn is virtually all that cattle eat at those places. They even visit a guy who does isotopic analyses on carbon isotopes and learn (based upon analyzing their hair) that they're pretty much made from corn. Even the meat that they buy is raised by being fed corn. We're made up of more corn in the US than someone from Central America.

ENGWOOD 7 years, 1 month ago

Don't be fooled Al Snore is in it for the money too.

yourworstnightmare 7 years, 1 month ago

emilyhadley has it right.It is not corn per se, rather the tons of nitrogen fertilizer dumped on corn fields throughout the Mississippi valley.Government subsidies of corn production have made profitable what should be marginally profitable in the free market.Corn growers just can't extract their lips from the government teat. Suck suck suck away at that subsidy money. Good stuff.

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