It could be a dream come true or the latest scene in a long nightmare. Dow AgroSciences has developed a genetically engineered corn, named Enlist, to withstand herbicides containing 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). The chemical was developed with the intention of helping to increase crop yields by eliminating nutrient-robbing weeds from farmers’ fields, and these days it is thought to be the most commonly used herbicide in the world.
As reported in “Analysis: Dow’s new corn: time bomb or farmers’ dream?” at www.msnbc.com, the root of the problem is that liberal use of herbicides with 2,4-D has wiped out a great number of weeds with low to moderate resistance, leaving the door open for weeds with greater resistance to proliferate. The problem is twofold: Farmers are using more 2,4-D to combat these weeds, also known as superweeds, yet many crops aren’t resistant to it. The herbicides damage crops that are nearby, downwind, and so on.
Enlist hasn’t been approved yet, but Dow is hoping for approval this year so it will be ready for the 2013 planting season.
What does this have to do with metal fabrication? Well, everything.
Every item you manufacture has to be sent somewhere, whether by air, land, or sea, and transportation takes fuel. One of those fuels is ethanol, and in the U.S., corn is the primary raw material for making ethanol. Anything that boosts corn yields assists in ethanol production.
What does ethanol do for us? For starters, using more ethanol means using less gasoline, so it reduces our dependence on oil (foreign and domestic). Most passenger-car and light-truck engines can run on blends of up to 10 percent ethanol; vehicles produced since 2000 can handle up to 15 percent ethanol; and, of course, E-85 vehicles can run on any blend up to 85 percent ethanol.
Second, more reliance on ethanol is good for fabricators involved in making any of the equipment used for turning corn into ethanol—milling, cooking, fermenting, distilling, and storage—and the pipe used to connect everything and in the boilers. According to the Renewable Fuels Association, ethanol production capacity in the U.S. nearly doubled in just two years (2007 to 2009), from 5.5 billion to 10.6 billion gallons per year. It kept right on rolling, and as of January 2012 reached 14.9 billion gallons.
Finally, the U.S. Dept. of Energy reports that the use of ethanol compared with gasoline reduces greenhouse gases by 20 percent.
Back to Enlist. We have been using herbicides and pesticides for decades, and the result is always the same: resistant plants and insects. Farmers have been using genetically engineered crops for years, and we can’t expect a different outcome.
The ethanol industry has become self-sustaining; the federal subsidy ended earlier this year, so what do you think? Is it time to proceed with Enlist to assist corn farmers and nudge the industry along (and help the farmers that grow corn as a food crop), or should we take a different route?