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Column: Fuel is used many ways in food supply

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By John Bartlit

A global issue in its infancy is the fuel demand of the food supply. The issue sprang on the public scene with the fuel demand of growing corn to make fuel.

I have no answers but I bring useful questions. Most issues have too many answers known and too few questions asked.

The corn-ethanol question is simply figuring the input and output. How much fuel energy is in the ethanol made versus how much is needed to make it from corn?

The input energy is the sum of the fuel energy to till the soil, plant the corn, fertilize it, harvest it, truck it to an ethanol plant and convert it to fuel. The issue goes on but for now, the net gain in fuel energy looks small at best.

The broader question is what food supply system demands the least fuel energy. An aspect people focus on is the fuel used to transport food. Fuel demand is less to bring us melons or meat from nearby than from far-off Chile or New Zealand.

Is this still true if melons come 100 per truck from two hours down the road versus how many hundred thousands per shipload, plane-, train- and big truckload from Chile? I would guess so but to know takes more figuring.

What if melons come from Arizona in a mid-sized truck? What if the melon patch, or the farmland, requires pumping lots of water to grow melons?


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