Actually it seems the figures on beet sugar put it ahead of any other source, which is why there has been a dramatic expansion in beet acres in the US. Manitoba used to have a vibrant sugar industry, apparently producing the cheapest sugar in the world, without subsidy. The industry is completely gone now, a victim of political pressure, and US and Brazilian subsidies. Their equipment was sold cheap into the US.
I question the 180 country trade barrier figure. There are many countries around the world that will not have their territories contaminated with genetically modified crops, or accept dairy products laced with bovine growth hormone, or accepting of corporate inspection and quality assurance.
The oxygenate claim makes sense, but the percentage needed in that role is likely small. But as an emissions reduction strategy, I will take industry claims with a big grain of salt.
I do not claim to know the US ag system, but it seems to any causal observer there are huge subsidies at all levels of production, loan schemes, tax concessions, many kinds of support, and I expect that extends to the ethanol industry also.
Many countries have also felt it a priority to maintain protected markets for their local farmers, as they knew that head on competition with subsidized super power agriculture would wipe them out in short order. Mexico bowed to this pressure, even rewriting the constitition to privatize all the “Ejido”, community owned lease land. And opened the floodgates to subsidized corn and beans. The net effect was 5 million acreage lease farmers, and their dependants pushed into cities. At least before though poor, they always ate.
So really, in some cases, higher food prices is a road to greater local food security. Also because extensive farmers tend to farm for export, so if that means canola, flax, coffee or cotton, that is not human food, that will be the priority.
I addressed cellulosic ethanol a while ago. If all the crop residue of western Canada was efficiently processed, it would offset 10% of the nation’s fuel needs. You can’t process half that much and maintain healthy soil, and besides it’s not a practical proposition, but if lucky it might produce enough fuel to farm the same land.
Price and cost can get very tricky in subsidized environments. I would say price isn’t a good measure of efficiency in such an environment. What I would like to see is calories in to a system, compared to calories out. And considering that about half of petroleum energy is spent before reaching the tank, and nitrogen fertilizer consumes a massive amount of natural gas, etc, etc.
Avoiding the 10 calories in, to one out isn’t a fact to ignore. Let’s say the food processing and distribution, plus end waste amounts for half. So we are only 5 times deeper in the hole, but then ferment, distill, and distribute. When I see a distillery so productive that they fire their boilers on ethanol, then I will believe it. They fire their boilers on subsidies.