Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stover rovers: Agribusiness firms look for ways to use corn beyond the kernels

Farmers may be returning to the time when they used every part of a corn plant in some facet of the farm's operation. "Ethanol producers are increasingly using corn stover to power their plants, and they're working on using the stover itself to make the fuel," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports. Stover, the parts of the maize plant not harvested including the stalk and leaves, is generally left behind in fields to add organic matter to the soil.

"Now, agribusiness companies Monsanto Co., Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Deere and Co. see profits in stover and are collaborating on research into economical ways of harvesting, processing and using the stuff, including as substitutes for petro-chemicals," Brasher writes. As corn yields increase with ethanol production, the amount of stover left in the field has also been rising, leading farmers to look for ways to profit from the surplus. "A 200-bushel-per-acre corn crop, which is common today, produces 3.8 dry tons of stover an acre," Brasher writes, and seed giant Monsanto reports a 300-bushel crop of the future will produce 4.7 dry tons of stover.

"For Monsanto, finding farmers a market for stover will keep them planting corn," Brasher writes. "ADM, a corn processor, sees a business opportunity in converting the stover to biofuels, industrial chemicals and a feed that could replace some grain in cattle diets. Deere and Co. sees a market in the equipment needed to collect the stover." An Iowa State University study estimated it would cost farmers at least $50 a ton to harvest and truck the stover to market, and South Dakota farmer Darrin Ihnen, who sells stover to a Poet LLC ethanol plant, estimates farmers will need $30 to $60 per ton to make it worthwhile. (Read more)

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