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More corn critical to meeting ethanol targets

Agriculture.com Staff 05/02/2007 @ 12:43pm

Even with farmers planting as many as 12 million more acres of corn this spring, some market experts say harvest could still fall short of rising demand for corn-based ethanol.

To help farmers keep pace with accelerating demand, Syngenta officials say the company is ramping up its introductions of new technology in genetics, traits and crop protection that increase per-acre yield potential.

Like the introduction of commercial fertilizers and hybrid corn, experts see plant genetics and seed traits delivering the next big jump in corn yields, according to a Syngenta report.

With a 50-million-gallon capacity for ethanol production and a scheduled mid-June opening, Heron Lake Bio Energy in southern Minnesota will increase local demand for corn by some 18 million bushels annually, says Bob Wolf, certified crop advisor with County Seed & Cropping in Adrian, Minnesota. Thanks to advances in seed traits and other farm technologies, Wolf anticipates that most of these extra bushels will be grown by area farmers.

"There are hybrid and trait developments available today and coming down the pike within the next five years that will help usproduce a whole lot more corn," Wolf says.

"Corn hybrids with built-in seed protection for corn rootworm can significantly improve per-acre yields in fields at risk," says Chuck Lee, head of Syngenta corn products.

After securing U.S. regulatory approvals, Syngenta introduced Agrisure RW for growers this planting season. Agrisure RW is a new seed trait for controlling corn rootworm, a devastating pest that robs millions of bushels in yield each year. For this spring, Syngenta developed a program for growers who are willing to direct their grain to domestic markets such as on farm feeding, domestic feedlots and select ethanol plants.

With a large customer base of hog and beef producers growing corn year after year, protection for rootworm is a major benefit to area growers, says Wolf. "Corn-on-corn acres are at greatest risk from rootworm feeding and growers want this trait to protect their yields," he says.

Wolf anticipates more traits coming down the pike with the potential to increase yield through insect and disease protection, but it doesn't end there.

"Moving forward, we will also see traits that are uniquely suited to the end use, such as amylase corn for more efficient ethanol production and phytase corn for more nutritious livestock feed," he says. "In the near future, we won't know No. 2 yellow dent corn as we do today."

Even with farmers planting as many as 12 million more acres of corn this spring, some market experts say harvest could still fall short of rising demand for corn-based ethanol.

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