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Yes or No?

I had an economics professor in college who would pose every statement as a question.

“The supply is less than the demand. Yes or no?” he would state in his thick Greek accent.

He would often call on a member of the class to answer his query, and that person would either state the obvious or be forced to ignore the facts and disagree with an expert in the field.

But economic decisions are never as easy as “yes” or “no.”

As the cost of fuel rises, many are looking to biofuels, such as the corn-based ethanol, to reduce U.S. dependence on oil. But by doing so, the price of corn has jumped and acreage for other crops has been taken out of production to grow more corn.

Economic theory would say that as more growers produce corn, at some point there will be an oversupply and prices will drop. But there’s not enough land in the country to grow enough corn for ethanol at our rate of oil consumption.

In short, all that has been done is pass along the cost of fuel to everyone. Now, instead of paying more for gas to haul a whole family, each member of the family is “taxed” more by the higher cost of foods that they eat. And when food costs more, those with lower incomes have to make tough decisions about what to buy, and higher-cost produce won’t make the cut every time. We want all consumers to eat more produce. Yes or no?

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look for ways to reduce our dependence on petroleum, but I think we’ve overlooked an easy one. Most produce that U.S. consumers eat has been shipped across the country or from overseas. Potato growers have an opportunity to capitalize on their proximity to markets – potatoes are grown in all 50 states.

Buying local is already a trend in retail markets, but a growing trend in Europe is the idea of “food miles.” Shoppers there are aware of how far their product has traveled and by what means. Shoppers in the United States could find value in how far their food traveled too. Yes or no?

One final note on economists. That same professor told my class that the Dow Jones Industrial Average would never surpass 10,000, yet it recently topped 13,000. So maybe there’s a big difference between economic theory and reality. Yes or no?

This issue of Spudman is the harvest issue, as the picture on the cover may have implied. You’ll find an article on Good Agricultural Practices and the top vine kill tips, as well as a feature on the Navajo Tribes agriculture company that grows potatoes under the Navajo Pride brand.

Good luck with your harvest, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed for good weather until the July/August issue of Spudman comes out.

Originally posted Monday, May. 21, 2007

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