Turn Sugar Into Ethanol? You bet!

Inside Dakota Ag

USDA is urging ethanol producers to use sugar instead of corn to make fuel. But corn may already to cheap for plants to switch.

Published on: September 20, 2013

Should the U.S. start making ethanol out of sugar?

I say, you bet.

We have a glut of sugar on the market -- thanks mostly to Mexico dumping their surplus into the U.S. this year.

Switching to sugar might be good for ag’s image, too. I doubt that anybody will complain about using sugar to make fuel, like they complain about using corn. The food police -- who seem to hate the fact that we use corn to make meat -- aren’t sweet on sugar. They say sugar is making us fat and has our kids bouncing off the walls. They’d be happy to see sugar going in our engines instead of our mouths.

Wildlife and conservation folks might be on ag’s side for a change, too. At least they wouldn’t be able to complain about more grassland land being converted to cropland to grow a feedstock for ethanol. Nobody is going to tear up a pasture out on the Missouri River bluffs or drain a wetland in the flyway to grow sugarbeets. Where sugarbeets are grown, there haven’t been any grasslands or un-drained fields for decades.

Unfortunately, the whole sugar-to-ethanol idea may dissolve even before it gets started. The price of corn has fallen 40% ahead of what might be a record harvest. The mountain of surplus sugar may not be big enough to make sugar an economical substitute for corn.

David Kragnes, of Felton, Minn., who is both a sugarbeet and a corn grower, once wrote that farmers can figure out how to overproduce anything.

America ought to harness that power, he said.

Need doctors? Turn the job of producing them over to farmers. We’d soon have too many.