Jim Peterson’s corn contains a magic ingredient: alpha amylase. This ethanol-fermenting enzyme arrives at the plant on the cob, along with the starch for brewing ethanol, as part of Syngenta Enogen corn hybrids.
Peterson and some neighbors earn a 40¢/bu. premium for these double-duty kernels to rewards his efforts to produce this new identity-preserved crop for the Quad County Corn Processors (QCCP) plant in Galva, Iowa.
"The Enogen hybrids we grow replace the alpha amylase enzyme while effectively increasing the plant’s fermenter," says Alan Bennett, a local Enogen grower and QCCP board member.
"These hybrids have better viscosity when blended with No. 2 yellow corn during processing so the plant needs less energy. That'll make a huge difference in energy savings for the plant. While the plant has savings, growers earn a 40¢/bu. premium." Bennett saw the benefits of a production trial at QCCP and commercially grew an Enogen hybrid in 2012 on 161 strip-tilled acres.
"If the plant makes more profit, it’s good for all of the guys who deliver corn, not just the guys who grow Enogen," says Jim Peterson, another Galva-area grower. "If we didn't have ethanol plants, the corn market could really drop."
The ethanol plant pays premiums to compensate growers for the enzyme being delivered in the Enogen grain, and also for the required stewardship, such as the 30-ft. border of a similar non-Enogen hybrid around each field. Because Peterson planted nearly 5,000 acres of Enogen hybrids in 2012, "we devoted one planter to the border rows on each field and the other planters did the Enogen hybrids," he says.
During the growing season, "there was third-party verification," explains Bennett. "I had an hour-long phone interview. I was asked what was planted in fields next to my fields and what I did with the extra seed." He buried the remaining half bag in a field planted with Enogen hybrids.
"We want growers to bring more than half a bag back to us and we'll credit them for opened bags," says Dave Heeren, an Akron, Iowa, grower and Syngenta seed dealer. "The online contracting went well," Bennett says. "I could call Todd Axtell when I had questions. Stewardship was also verified online."
Right after planting, “we verify every field," says Todd Axtell, the South Dakota-based Enogen account lead for Syngenta. "On site, we sample the border rows to be sure they were planted with non-Enogen corn hybrids, so that they can be replanted if necessary."
After pollination, fields are checked to estimate yields, he continues. "We want to make sure there is enough grain to meet the plant's needs, or if there are going to be more bushels than anticipated. The plant contracts to purchase 100% of the Enogen grain and pays a premium for all bushels delivered, including border rows. If the crop is short, like it was in some places last year, there is no grower penalty,” Axtell says.
"At harvest, the border acres are combined with the Enogen hybrids to blend the corn together," Bennett explains. "We cleaned out the combines in the field, and the auger was cleaned after the bins were filled. That went fine. The bins are marked with magnetic signs."
After harvest, the bins were sampled to make sure the grain met the specs.
The Enogen corn is stored on-farm and delivered on a schedule determined by the ethanol plant to maintain a predetermined percentage in the grind every day. Bennett, his brother and son all received on-farm training to help make the delivery go smoothly.
"You just need the contract number and the right form with the load. There is a three-minute test at the plant after you are weighed and probed. Along with the moisture and test weight, they check to make sure the load is 90% Enogen grain. There is a placard in the semi-tractor cab window and a sign next to the trap on the tractor-trailer," Bennett explains.
"All of my customers but one signed up for 2013," says Heeren. "They've doubled and tripled their acres. The stewardship requirements haven't bothered them." Heeren and some of his customers grew Enogen corn for production trials this spring.
"Most of my 2012 customers signed up for 2013 Enogen contracts," says Jeff Brosamle, a Galva area grower, investor in QCCP and Syngenta seed dealer. Yields on his 730 acres of Enogen hybrids "varied from 120 to 190 bu. due to challenging weather, but were similar to conventional corn hybrids."
After 200-bu. yields on his Enogen hybrid, Bennett contracted to more than double his acres in 2013. Peterson will maintain his Enogen acres similar to last year.
"We have expanded the program to approximately 65,000 trial and commercial acres this year, Axtell says. "Using Enogen hybrids in an ethanol plant is a long-term, sustainable benefit to both the growers and plant. When the grower becomes the alpha amylase supplier for an ethanol plant, the local economy captures this income. The more profits, the more sustainable ethanol is."
Where can you participate?
Along with the Quad County Corn Processors in Galva, Iowa, and Plymouth Energy in Merrill, Iowa, another plant has signed commercial agreements with Syngenta for the 2013 growing season: Bonanza BioEnergy of Garden City, Kan., completed a trial in 2012, according to Todd Axtell, the South Dakota-based Enogen account lead for Syngenta.
"The 90-120-day trials allow the plants to know how much grain with the Enogen trait technology should be included in the grind. That way we know how much Enogen corn to plant," he explains.
Production trials are underway in 2013 with two additional plants in Nebraska and one in Iowa. By design, those ethanol plants are not located directly next to modified starch plants. "We only deliver this grain to ethanol plants and are testing the use of GPS tracking on the trucks to alert growers if a truck is going off track," Axtell says.