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Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers reassure consumers

DANIEL LOOKER 02/16/2011 @ 4:13pm Business Editor

Rising food prices have consumers worried in the U.S. and they’re being blamed for unrest in the Middle East, with some American environmentalists saying corn ethanol is the real culprit.

To respond to inaccurate reports, members of the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association are visiting the media this week and next to explain that the causes of food price increases are more complicated, says the group’s executive director, Dwayne Siekman.  

“I don’t think there’s one thing to blame,” Siekman told Agriculture.com Wednesday. “I hate to use that cliché, the perfect storm, but weather has been a factor across the globe.”

Siekman recounted the events already familiar to farmers and ranchers – last summer’s drought in Russia and the heavy rains in Australia that have contributed to rising food costs.

“As we know, wheat is the food of the world. Wheat is the food crop,” Siekman said. Corn, of course is mainly fed to livestock. And, because ethanol is a major market for corn, it’s being blamed for rising food costs.

Siekman said that in some of his interviews with Ohio reporters, the question of the influence of ethanol does come up.

The Renewable Fuels Association says ethanol use represents just 3% of the world’s total grain supply, making ethanol a factor in rising prices, but a tiny one.

Siekman said that he’s explaining other influences on rising food costs, including petroleum and energy costs that influence food processing, transportation and packaging. And the shrinking value of the U.S. dollar makes our grain exports a relative bargain in countries like China, while U.S. consumers seem to be paying more for all commodities with their weakened currency.

Siekman also points out that high prices are likely to lead to more corn and soybean production, which will eventually bring down feed costs for end users like meat and dairy producers. He admits that he’s not certain where all of the added acres for corn and soybeans will come from, with many crops at high prices. In the U.S., some of the acres attracted by the bidding war in the futures markets could come from land leaving the conservation reserve program, he said.

And in Ohio, at least, some could come from soft red winter wheat fields that may have been weakened by a dry, cold winter in parts of the state. Last fall winter wheat plantings jumped by about 200,000 acres, to a total of 900,000 in the state. “We don’t anticipate a lot of acres coming out of wheat but there is some potential,” he said.

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