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Agribusiness: Pioneer evaluating hybrids for ethanol, other traits

It wasn’t too long ago that farmers could sum up the quality of their corn in a few words – moisture, foreign material, damage, protein, starch, oil.... But that’s beginning to change as more end uses are found for the crop.

“Now we’re getting a little more specific, and we’re evaluating hybrids on digestible energy, starch functionality, starch extractability, fermentability for ethanol, fatty acids and kernel physical and milling factors,” says Bill Meacham, field sales agronomist with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, Inc.

Meacham, who works in Kentucky and west Tennessee for Pioneer, was describing some of the criteria in the company’s new IndustrySelect Program to farmers attending the Pioneer Research Station Field Day in Union City, Tenn.

Under the program, growers can use the IndustrySelect designation to help determine which Pioneer brand products have more of the characteristics sought by ethanol processors, corn refiners, food corn millers and pork and poultry producers.

“Some of this is being done through near infra-red calibrations in which we can take a grain sample, run it through the machine and tell you whether this sample would be a good corn for livestock feed or the high starch market or the ethanol market,” says Meacham.

“The IndustrySelect program will tell growers which hybrids are best suited for those markets.”

Livestock feed still accounts for the majority (57 percent) of the usage for U.S. corn, with pork leading the pack at 18 percent; followed by beef, 17 percent; poultry, 11 percent; dairy, 8 percent; and other, 3 percent.

But other uses are beginning to command more of a share of the market: Fuel ethanol, 11 percent; high fructose corn syrup, 5 percent; starch, 3 percent; sweeteners, 2 percent; cereals and others, 2 percent; and beverage alcohol, 1 percent, according to numbers compiled by Pioneer.

Meacham says Pioneer is currently evaluating specific traits of hybrids in four areas, including corn wet milling and food corn and two relatively new categories of dry-grind ethanol and poultry/pork feed. Corn wet milling traits are high extractable starch and waxy corn.

“Pioneer has a breeding program on high extractable starch or HES hybrids,” he said. “These would be hybrids that have a high portion of the kernel in extractable starch for a lot of industry uses. We also have waxy or WX corn hybrids that have a high level of amylopectin.

“We have 24 hybrids that are characterized with high extractable starch and 10 that are designated as waxy.”

With plans for ethanol manufacturing plants springing up in places like Union City and other locations in the South, Pioneer is conducting research on hybrids with high total fermentables or HTF for use in ethanol plants.

“Certain hybrids actually make more ethanol than others,” said Meacham. “This chart shows a range among Pioneer HTF hybrids of 2 to 3 to 4 percent more ethanol. That may not sound like much, but you take a 20-million gallon plant and varieties that can crank out 3 to 4 percent more gallons, that’s got to help the bottom line.”

In the poultry/pork feed category, Pioneer can tell producers which hybrids have higher levels of high available energy or HAE compared to other hybrids, he said. A total of 77 Pioneer hybrids now carry the HAE designation.

“Energy represents greater than 60 percent of the cost to produce an animal,” he said. These hybrids can give producers more accurate feed formulation and less animal waste output and increased feeding value potential of $20 to $30 per unit.

“In the food corn market, yellow food-grade corn or YFC and white food-grade corn or WH have superior cooking or dry milling properties,” he noted. “Pioneer has 46 YFC hybrids and 10 WH hybrids.”

The NIR or near-infra-red calibration system Pioneer has developed was recently given to the National Corn Growers Association. The NCGA will be working with ethanol plants and grain buyers to let them know more about the hybrid characteristics.

Field day participants also heard presentations on new seed treatments for soil insects, broad-spectrum insect protection provided by the new Herculex 1 Insect Protection technology and higher yielding Pioneer corn hybrids with the Roundup Ready 2 corn gene.

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