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Optimized ethanol genetics

Enogen corn developed to express the alpha amylase enzyme includes input traits growers like including above and belowshyground insect protection
<p>Enogen corn, developed to express the alpha amylase enzyme, includes input traits growers like, including above- and below&shy;ground insect protection.</p>
Corn breeders are looking at ways to boost biofuel output from every bushel of corn you raise.

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.

Pest protection

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.”

Mash from Enogen corn is sampled at the lab of Quad County Corn Processors.

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.

Increased profitability

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 cmroot/pioneer/us/products/corn/end_ use/14HTF.pdf.

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