Science: Chemurgy: 1943

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The war, changing the U.S. farm problem from surplus to shortage, has also reversed the chemurgy-movement. For eight years the National Farm Chemurgic Council has tried to solve the farm problem by promoting diversified crops of use to industry. But today the farmer needs manpower, not new markets. It is industry that needs chemurgy, not the farmer. Without agricultural help, rubber, alcohol and explosives programs would be facing disaster.

The ninth Chemurgic Conference of Agriculture, Industry and Science, meeting in Chicago last fortnight, changed its outlook without blinking. The veteran farm crusaders were absent or silent. Research men from major industries—rubber, alcohol, paints and varnish, plastics—dominated the scene with talk of shortages, grim calculations. Hopes were stirred by such performances as that of the soybean industry, a recent problem child of chemurgy, which now crushes ten million bushels of beans monthly, expects a crop of 175 million bushels in 1943 and the export of a billion pounds of soy flour and grits under Lend-Lease.

Rubber. The easing of the rubber shortage was itself an ironic triumph for chemurgy. Synthetic rubber tires, with almost all their rubber derived from alcohol, are now rolling into service. Yet the greatest fiasco of the chemurgic movement had been the 1937 investment of $275,000 of Chemical Foundation funds in a 10,000-gallon-a-day alcohol plant of the Atchison Agrol Co. at Atchison, Kans. This was an effort to introduce a motor fuel containing 10% alcohol. It was successful in using surplus grain but unsuccessful in competition with gasoline, and closed after a year. Today the plant is in expanded operation, making alcohol for rubber, explosives and war chemicals.

Alcohol. The present demand for grain alcohol is a great problem for chemurgists. Production in 1943 will amount to 530 million gallons, more than five times the prewar figure. With imports of molasses cut off by the lack of tankers, corn is the major source. The entire production would require 200 million bushels of corn a year. At that rate the Commodity Credit Corp. cannot long continue to supply the corn, and farmers want to use their excess stock to feed the 13 million increase in the U.S. pig population. Again munitions compete with food.

Turning to the 1¼-billion-bushel wheat surplus as a source of alcohol is no remedy now. There are unsolved technical difficulties in the use of wheat: for instance, unlike corn, wheat does not now provide a valuable cattle feed as a by-product of its fermentation. WPB is studying the possibility of making alcohol from waste wood and even from waste sulfite liquor from paper mills. Farmers are begging to be relieved of the alcohol and rubber burdens,* praying for petroleum rubber to make its appearance, a complete reversal of their insistence a year ago on being included in the rubber program.

Other Plant Rubbers. On the opening day of the conference Rubber Director William M. Jeffers in Washington announced the curtailment of one of chemurgy's pet projects, the culture of guayule in the Salinas River Valley, Calif. The 50,000 acres already planted should produce 20,000 tons of natural rubber by the end of 1944, but the plan for 100,000 additional acres, perhaps 500,000 acres later, is now abandoned. Food is needed more than rubber, and is more profitable to the farmer.

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