U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s allegiance to corn-ethanol was recently on display at a luncheon in Washington, where the Secretary delivered his oft-repeated position that biofuel production plays only a minor role in higher corn and food prices. Vilsack defended the ethanol industry, saying “corn-based ethanol does not deserve the scapegoat reputation that some folks attempt to assign to it.” From the perspective of poultry producers, this is blind allegiance that is driving their companies into bankruptcy.

Poultry producers witness the Secretary continually rising to the defense of the ethanol industry and the interests of corn growers, but ignoring poultry’s economic plight. Their message might justifiably be as follows: Mr. Secretary, poultry production is part of U.S. agriculture, too. More balance in policy is needed in the nation’s requirements for fuel and food.

Unlike in some sectors of agriculture, poultry producers don’t ask for subsidies or price supports. Their survival does depend on feedstuffs, including corn, being affordably available, as far as weather and other market factors allow. Ironically, this requirement is missing due to the level of government mandates for the use of corn in ethanol production.

If U.S. agriculture is to play its necessary role in feeding a world population of 7 to 9 billion by 2050, more balance is needed in U.S. biofuels and food policy. The current administration has made much of small-scale agriculture and specialty crops, but the efficient U.S. poultry industry has a role to play in meeting large-scale needs for affordable protein. Successfully meeting these needs will require all sectors of agriculture – including corn producers and poultry producers.

View the video, “Connecting the dots between ethanol and corn prices.”