When the Numbers Do Lie

When the Numbers Do Lie
by Cathryn
National Corn Growers Association

In a world of splashy magazine covers and sexed-up headlines, it can be easy to obscure the facts with so-called data. Correlating figures to create data may sounds simple, but in choosing how to present the aggregated collection and conclusions of research, the data suppliers become the gatekeepers to the truth. To effectively assess the validity of the information, it is imperative to know exactly how they paint the picture that colors our perceptions.

In the case of U.S. Department of Agriculture figures on corn usage, government categories are obscuring reality and, in doing so, fueling food-versus-fuel panic based in incomplete information and, sometimes, intentionally obtuse interpretations. Now, the National Corn Growers Association wants to help the public understand what agricultural experts already know- corn used in ethanol production actually creates both feed and fuel.

In a recent interview, NCGA Vice President of Production and Utilization Paul Bertels got at the heart of the issue, and it is all about how USDA compiles the numbers. Noting that ethanol production has increased, he points out that, “basically one-third of what is being processed is coming right back into the livestock ration.”

Notably, this third is not reflected in corn usage data released by the agency. Instead, the total sum is attributed to ethanol with no accounting for the addition of high quality feed products that enter the livestock sector post-production.

“People get a little hysterical about the food vs. fuel,” said NCGA CEO Rick Tolman. “They believe that we are taking corn away from livestock producers.” That’s not the case, however. “The big difference is the pie is growing. Those pieces that have been going for feed and food are still there—they are not any smaller—it’s just that the pie got bigger.”

As in so many cases, the truth calms fears based in a lack of knowledge. Instead of perpetuating the pandemonium, realize that sensationalized stories sell magazines without regard for their impact upon the country. Buying into the mass hysteria only harms both farmers and the industry providing a domestic, renewable, sustainable fuel for the United States. Take a look at the broader picture instead of being blinded by skewed stats.

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