According to the US Department of Agriculture, recent experiments show that sweet potatoes and tropical cassava yield two to three times as much carbohydrate for ethanol production as field corn. Sweet potatoes and cassava also require significantly less fertilizer and pesticide than corn.
The experiments are unique in that all three crops were grown at the same time in two different areas of the country.
But sweet potatoes and cassava are not without disadvantages.
The two crops have higher start-up costs than corn, so without big subsidies farmers may not see a reason to hop on the bandwagon. The study notes that sweet potato and cassava only have greater potential than corn if economical harvesting and processing techniques are developed.
And while cassava and sweet potato are not staple foods like corn, they still take up valuable land that could be used for much-needed food production.
Additionally, the two crops only reach the lower limits of sugarcane’s production ability. So while the discovery of their efficiency is a milestone in the search for better ethanol, we still have a long way to go.
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