Van E. Harl

SPECIAL OPERATIONS SQUIRRELS AND CORN PRICES

One of the advantages to being married to the Colonel and living on Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma is the extra security protection that is provided for the senior officer housing on base. We have special-ops trained squirrels guarding our house. They are in my front yard every day standing watch for Islamic-extremist squirrels. Sometimes it gets hard to tell which squirrels are who. Our Air Force security forces “cop” squirrels will not wear their berets and they run around the yard “commando-style”. You would think Britney Spears was giving them lingerie fashion tips. They however are there, ever vigilant manning security posts.

The truth is the security “post” is my squirrel feeder in the front yard. I have been feeding the “troops” in my yard for the past two and a half years, but the price of corn is on a serious rise. I buy forty pound bags of deer corn to feed the defender squirrels. Prices have ranged between $4.00 and $5.00 for the past couple of years but I had to pay $6.50 for a bag of corn the other day. With the ice storm of the decade going on it was every squirrel for themselves, I however felt a passionate need to get out the 4 X 4 truck and go to town for corn. You cannot fight a war on terrorism without logistics. Logistics means getting the needed supplies to the troops on the front line and in this case it was corn. My four legged ground troops needed re-supply. They needed it fast and there was no time to argue with war time profiteers who would jack up the price of corn.

The problem is not the local vender who is retailing the corn, it is the world market. My family in Iowa has been trying to make a living growing corn for as long as I can remember. They would pray that corn would earn $2.00 a bushel and last week corn closed on the market at $3.96. It is projected to be over $4.00 by next month. So if you are a corn farmer, life is getting better, but if you are in the ethanol business or a citizen of Mexico the price of corn is cutting into your way of life. Many of the ethanol plants that are online today factored corn into their equations, at about $2.50 a bushel. When oil jumped to over $60.00 a barrel and brought gas close to or over $3.00 a gallon, ethanol producers were counting the dollars. Oil is dropping in price but the demand so far for ethanol is still there and that means more corn is needed.

Did you know that most soft drinks do not even have sugar in them anymore? It is corn syrup that is used to sweeten your soda. This is also pulling at the corn market and keeping prices high. Approximately 97% of the citizens of Mexico eat corn tortillas. Corn is originally from that region of the world and has been a major part of the local diet for in excess of 5000 years. Corn has almost doubled in price over the past couple of years and the price of tortillas has continued to rise. The increase was between 20% and 25% just in the last quarter of 2006.

One of the issues with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) was that restrictions on US corn going into Mexico will be completely removed by 2008. The local Mexican farmer who has a few acres of corn has had to sell his harvest on the open market and try to compete with the big guys in Mexico and from across the border. Of course no one seemed to notice this in Mexico when NAFTA was enacted. Mexican economics, I would suggest, was looking forward to liberally exporting to the US, but has discovered that free trade works both ways. Now the price of corn has risen so high that the little guy with his few acres is doing better, but his customer the Mexican housewife is struggling to buy basic food for her family.

When times are hard in Mexico you can do without meat, but you cannot do without the corn tortillas. Mexican newspapers talk of tortillas wars. And to think we went to war with Iraq over oil. I would hate to see the day I can no longer afford corn for my security forces squirrels because the demand for ethanol, soda, and tortillas have priced corn beyond my reach.