Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Likes Ethanol, Debates Pimentel
Market for Maine Apples?

Likes Ethanol, Debates Pimentel

To the Editor:

Regarding David Pimentel’s talk at the November Farmer to Farmer Conference (printed in the March-May MOF&G): “I haven’t been able to change the dumb system of using ethanol, but it does require 30% more energy equivalents to produce a gallon of ethanol than you actually get out, and it causes a lot of severe environmental problems. It takes 1700 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. Corn causes more soil erosion than any other crop grown in the nation. It uses more insecticides, herbicides and N fertilizer than any other crop grown in the nation.”

I would like to point out that pure ethanol will be the only fuel that will be able to power gasoline engines when remaining oil deposits become too scarce to supply world energy needs. Any comments about ethanol must be done in comparison with gasoline, which it can replace, not in a vacuum, as Pimentel has. What assumptions he uses and what he includes and excludes in his calculations are probably the cause of the misinformation he has presented.

For one thing, ethanol can be produced from switchgrasses, sugar beets, potatoes, garbage, manure and many other crops besides corn. They do not require pesticides and certainly not petroleum-derived pesticides; they can be grown organically, and organic farming, I thought, was the main point of MOFGA. So pesticides and corn should be factored out of his analysis.

Secondly, Michigan State U. Professor Bruce Dale calculated that using Pimentel-Patzek’s methodology, the net energy balance of converting mash to ethanol (-29%) is better than converting crude oil to gasoline (-39%) and coal to electricity (-235%.) Furthermore, the USDA calculated that producing 1 BTU of ethanol takes 1/8 as many BTUs as producing 1 BTU of gasoline. The key point, however, is that ethanol will never be exhausted, as petroleum one day will.

Third, farming crops for energy has the potential of turning agriculture into a very profitable industry.

As long as we use gasoline and petrol diesel fuel in our vehicles, we are inviting a future catastrophe.

The Model T Ford, which was the first mass-produced automobile in America, was designed to run on ethanol, not gasoline.

Pimentel also said: “you and I are paying $3 billion in taxes now to support the ethanol industry.” What he did not say is that we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars to subsidize petroleum and to fight Middle Eastern wars to keep a constant supply of petroleum flowing into our oil-based economy. He did not say that our government is paying farmers to not grow crops to prevent prices from dropping, and it is buying surplus crops to keep prices up, even though those crops are rotting in Federal grain silos. These expenditures are far more than any ethanol subsidy, I believe (although I haven’t been able to get the figures out of USDA). He did not say that our citizens throw away tons of wasted food, which could be turned into ethanol; or that cattlemen and other animal farmers waste tons of manure that could be turned into ethanol.

Ethanol will not produced anywhere near the greenhouse gases – including carbon dioxide, which creates global warming – that gasoline does. Furthermore, the organic plants grown to produce ethanol absorb carbon dioxide and generate oxygen, which reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the air we breathe. Biofuels are a solution to global warming; petroleum-based combustion is one of the major causes of global warming.

Pimentel paints a gloomy, fallacious picture, although the truth is that biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel provide hope for a successful future for organic agriculture, and the only hope for mankind when the two catastrophes hit us in full force: the end of oil and the global climate tsunami.

As a spokesman for the other side, the fair and balanced side, of the biofuels issue, I’d suggest Michigan State U. professor Bruce Dale, who could be invited to speak at a similar conference to Pimental’s.

In answer to David Pimentel, who has studied ethanol for over 20 years, I have a degree in Chemistry from UNH, and have been drinking ethanol for over 30 years.


– Randall Parr, Appleton, Maine

Market for Maine Apples?

To the Editor,

I read with interest the apple cider article in the June-Aug. MOF&G but saw no mention of the possibility of bottling apple juice. We make lots of wonderful, flavorful, canned apple juice during good apple years, from our little trees and neighbors’ drops, but I hate having to buy organic apple juice from way across the country when we run out. I suppose it would be a big investment to bottle it, but maybe a producers’ cooperative would work. And returnable bottles too, someday? Maine organic apple juice, of mixed varieties?

– Beedy Parker, Camden, Maine