July 24 2007

Gulf Dead Zone: Bigger than ever

by Mark Rauscher

Gulf Dead Zone: Bigger than ever

U.S. farmers planted 92.9 million acres of corn this spring, a 15 percent-plus jump from last year. If you lumped all that land together -- not too hard to imagine, given that corn ag is highly concentrated in the Midwest -- you'd have a monocropped land mass nearly equal in size to the state of California.

The jump in corn acreage is excellent news if you own shares in mega meat-processing firms like Tyson and Smithfield. These firms have been complaining bitterly that the price of corn, driven up by the government-induced ethanol boom, will eat into their profits. (Corn is the preferred feed of CAFO operators, if not of the animals they confine.)

The California-sized corn planting is expected to deliver the largest corn harvest in U.S. history, which will likely drive corn prices down a little.

But the corn boom absolutely sucks if you live in a fishing community along the Gulf Coast -- or if you happen to be a fish who makes a home in those troubled coastal waters.

Researchers projected [PDF] Monday that the Gulf of Mexico's Dead Zone, like this year's corn harvest, will likely be the largest ever recorded.

Lots more after the jump