In 1980, the United States produced about 175 million gallons of ethanol. Today, the country produces more than 13 billion gallons. Over the last three decades, higher corn yields and hybrids with higher levels of fermentable starch have contributed to the ethanol industry’s growth.
Growers can play in this burgeoning biofuels market in two ways. The first, and perhaps the original play, was to become an investor in an ethanol startup. The second, and more recent play, is to grow new hybrids specifically “designed” to help ethanol producers increase output from every bushel of corn.
Here’s an update of the latest genetic-based tools that allow you to be part of this market.
Enogen corn, which was genetically modified to express the alpha amylase enzyme to help reduce ethanol production costs, was introduced to the market in 2011. At that time, Syngenta introduced five Enogen hybrids adapted to the western Corn Belt. Four dry-grind ethanol plants testing these hybrids reported that the corn reduced slurry viscosity and reduced energy and water consumption.
Today, the Enogen line has grown to 21 hybrids, with maturities ranging from 85 to 118 days, and about 250,000 acres are expected to be planted to the corn in 2015. Six dry-grind ethanol plants are contracting with growers to produce the corn, and seven more plants are in the trial stage.
In addition to the alpha amylase enzyme, the Enogen lineup features the Agrisure 3000GT trait package, which includes protection against corn borer and corn rootworm, as well as tolerance to glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides.
“We will be moving toward a trait package of Enogen plus Agrisure Duracade 5122 E-Z Refuge in 2016 and beyond,” says Jack Bernens, head of marketing and stakeholder relations, Enogen. This means that Enogen bags containing these seed traits will also include seed without the traits, for easy compliance with refuge requirements, generally known as “refuge in a bag.”
The run-up in Enogen-planted acres comes in part due to loyal growers who like what they see, notes Bernens. “A very high percentage of Enogen growers are renewing contracts for 2015 planting,” he says, attributing the growth in part to strong yield performance. The Enogen corn can be produced similarly to commercial hybrids, although it must be identity-preserved. Another reason is that ethanol producers who have licensed the Enogen technology are paying growers premiums to grow the corn.
Quad County Corn Processors, Galva, Iowa, for example, has been paying corn growers a premium, averaging 40 cents per bushel, to produce Enogen corn. The company found it no longer needs to buy liquid alpha amylase to process because the enzyme is already expressed in the Enogen corn.
Enogen corn also allows the company to process more corn with less water, saving both energy costs and water use.
Bernens notes that an ethanol plant doesn’t have to run that hybrid exclusively.
“We’ve found that an ethanol plant can use about 15% of its corn as Enogen and get the production benefits from the trait,” he says.
Many corn growers serve on the boards or own shares in ethanol plants. When these facilities produce more ethanol from each bushel of corn, they benefit, says Steve Petersen, end-use marketing manager, Monsanto.
Monsanto’s Processor Preferred hybrids are selected for their ability to yield higher levels of fermentable starch, as well as for yield performance and herbicide and insect resistance. Many are available as SmartStax hybrids. Over the last several years, Monsanto and its partners have expanded the number of hybrids from late-80- day to 120-day maturities.
Some of the Processor Preferred hybrids can yield as much as 8% more fermentable starch than other hybrids, Petersen says. “We normally see about a 2% increase in ethanol yield.” While this does not sound like much, a 2% increase could mean as much as 2 million extra gallons for a facility with an annual production of 100 million gallons of ethanol, he explains. Petersen adds that corn makes up about 80% of an ethanol facility’s production costs.
“We will continue to take into account grower and market demand for specialty seed products in our research and development efforts,” says Jane Slusark, media relations manager, DuPont Pioneer.
The company provides more than 325 Pioneer brand high total fermentable, or HTF, ethanol hybrids, ranging from 89 to 120 comparative relative maturity. The lineup includes 10 new hybrids for 2015. The HTF hybrids deliver higher levels of fermentable starch to offer dry-grind ethanol plants a grain with above-average ethanol production potential.
For a list of HTF hybrids, including what herbicide and insect resistance traits are available, visit pioneer.com/ cmroot/pioneer/us/products/corn/end_ use/14HTF.pdf.
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