Right now, the stock market news is all about soaring energy prices. And this may part of what could undo corn ethanol.
Earlier this year, corn ethanol looked to be in a sweet position. The government offers huge subsidies to the Big Ag companies (like Archers-Daniels-Midland Co.) who produce corn for ethanol. Additionally, rising oil prices were making alternatives (like corn ethanol) more desirable. Politicians were out there stumping on increased support for ethanol so that we could break ties to foreign oil.
Now, however, as things are liable to do on the stock market, things have changed. Corn ethanol is no longer looking profitable. Indeed, ethanol producers are seeing their profit margins shrink as two, rather large, new factors are introduced:
- Price of natural gas.
- Flooding in the Midwest.
Back in January, it was unforeseen that all energy prices would be surging to the levels that they are at now. And natural gas plays a big role in the production of corn ethanol. With natural gas prices following oil prices ever higher, it is costing more to produce corn ethanol.
The flooding in the Midwest isn’t helping, either. Corn that was meant to be turned into ethanol is being washed away, and in some cases the land it was growing on is being ruined by the things that floodwaters bring (toxins from chemicals and pesticides, excessive animal waste, debris, etc.).
What once looked like a promising investment is now starting look rather bleak. Indeed, this might herald the end of corn ethanol as an alternative to gas for cars. Which means that other fuel sources will have to be found. On the other hand, though, some might see it as an opportunity to get in while the prices are low and hope that Congress steps in save the budding ethanol industry. It’s been known to happen with increasing frequency.