Every once in a while, someone comes up with a magic word that will end the energy crisis. The latest one is "gasohol." It is now possible to make fuel for cars from grain products, potatoes and practically anything that can be grown on a farm. Several major oil companies are starting to get into the gasohol business. Since we are the largest food-producing nation in the world, energy experts are very optimistic about the future of the new fuel.
But food experts are pessimistic, and with reason.
This is what could happen in the next few years on a farm in Nebraska:
A buyer from an oil refinery and one from a grain dealer show up at the same time.
"We'll take your whole crop," the refinery buyer tells the farmer.
"Wait a minute," the grain dealer says. "We need that wheat for bread."
"Gasohol is more important than bread," the refinery buyer insists. "The more fuel we can make at home, the less we have to order from abroad."
"People need bread more than they need gasoline," the grain buyer protests.
The farmer finally says, "I don't care what you're buying it for. What are you paying?"
The refinery man says, "We'll give you $5 a bushel."
The grain merchant says, "We'll give you $5.50."
The refinery man says, "We'll give you six and we don't even care what the wheat looks like."
The grain man is getting nervous. "We'll pay $6.50, but that means the price of bread will go right through the roof. You can't let people go hungry this winter."
The refinery man says, "People would rather have a full tank of gas than a full stomach. You can't waste good wheat on bread."
The farmer says, "Keep talking price. I ain't interested in any other arguments."
The refinery man says, "We'll give you seven and throw in two large harvesting machines as a bonus."
"We can't compete with that," the grain man says. "Well, okay, we'll pay $8 a bushel and paint your house."
The refinery man says, "We'll give you nine a bushel and a two-week vacation in Acapulco."
The farmer says, "Do I hear 10?"
The refinery man says, "$10."
The grain man is about to slug the refinery buyer. "You people are crazy. If we can't feed the population, this country will go down the drain." c
"Not if they can drive their cars," the refinery man says.
The farmer smiles. "This is getting to be a lot of fun. I think I'll resign from the farmers' union and join OPEC."
The grain man says, "All right, Howell, forget the wheat. Let's talk about your corn."
The refinery man says, "You mean you have corn, too? Why didn't you say so? We can use all the corn you've got."
"I usually sell my corn for cattle."
"Forget the cattle. Give us the corn crop and we'll make you another J.R. Ewing."
"So what do people do for meat?" the grain man asks.
The refinery man replies, "Let 'em eat cake."