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By former USDA Secretary John R. Block.

I want to open today by talking about corn.  There are a lot of crops planted in the Midwest, but none as important to the economy as corn.  When I grew up we fed the corn that we produced to our pigs, cows, and chickens.  Our yield per acre was about 70 bushels.  Today we expect 250 bushels per acre or more.  We are thankful that the industry has found new uses for corn besides feed.  Forty percent of our corn crop is processed into ethanol.  That has meant everything to the corn industry.  Without that new market, corn would be worth far less than it is today.  However, the coronavirus has hammered the fuel market and as a result we are looking at record corn carryover this fall.  Fortunately, China is making some big corn buys and is committed to carrying out phase 1 of our trade deal.

Another opportunity is to increase the percentage of ethanol in our gasoline.  We pull up at the gas station and fill up with 10% ethanol fuel.  But E15 – 15% ethanol, is legal.  Some gas stations sell it, especially in Midwestern states.  If the public understood why E15 is better, they would want to buy it.  But the “Big Oil” industry has fought ethanol with all of their power.  I think we have a chance of increasing the ethanol fuel percentage to 20% or 30%.  Did you know that Brazil uses 20% ethanol in their fuel?  Now, I know some will argue that corn should be eaten.  “Don’t Burn It.”  I say that it’s time we recognized that with all of our new technology and precision farming we just produce more food than we can use.  More food than the world could consume.  We have a strong case.  Biofuels (ethanol) produce lower emissions resulting in cleaner air and higher octane giving the engine more power.  There are cities all over the world that could use cleaner air.  I saw that when I was in China 3 years ago.  Environmentalists should be cheering for ethanol.

Last point – We can’t control the weather.  I am sorry for all the farms in Iowa devastated by the storms.  And now hurricanes are pounding Louisiana and Texas.  This is not an easy year down on the farm.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go online to

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