The persistent drought is taking a toll on producers of ethanol, with corn becoming so scarce that nearly two dozen ethanol plants have been forced to halt production.
The Renewable Fuels Association, an ethanol industry trade group, provided data to The Associated Press showing that 20 of the nation’s 211 ethanol plants have ceased production over the past year, including five in January. Most remain open, with workers spending time performing maintenance-type tasks. But ethanol production won’t likely resume until after 2013 corn is harvested in late August or September.
Industry experts say as long as the recent droughts prove to be exceptional rather than typical then the ethanol production system can continue to function.
“There’s a lot of anxiety in the industry right now about the drought and a lot of folks watching the weather and hoping and praying this drought is going to break,” said Geoff Cooper, vice president for research and analysis for the Renewable Fuels Association.
“If we get back to a normal pattern and normal corn crop, then I think the industry is in good shape,” Cooper said.“But if this drought persists and it has the same effect on this coming corn crop, then we’ve got a problem.”
Of course droughts will persist if, as scientists in Iowa believe, the root cause is Climate Change which remains unaddressed. While ethanol’s energy use has always been controversial, the shortage of corn is indicative of larger food supply problems due to Climate Change. These threats to the food supply could become more pronounced and costly. For now it seems the agricultural industry is just hoping for a better year.