Value Propositions Made Clear

By Tom Bryan | September 24, 2013

Connected advancements in crop science, agronomy and ethanol production are creating a sort of industrial symbiosis that could have a transformative and lasting effect on American farming if American farmers want it to.

At the Corn Stover Harvest & Transport seminar, which took place prior to the National Advanced Biofuels Conference & Expo in Omaha, Neb., in mid-September, I learned that U.S. corn growers—some 1,500 of them now—are opening up their fields for corn residue harvests this fall. Poet-DSM, DuPont and Abengoa each gave updates on their successful efforts to convince corn growers to harvest or allow the harvest of crop residue—stalks, leaves and cobs—from their land. Corn stover is arguably the feedstock that most represents second-generation ethanol in the Midwest. It’s available in potentially huge quantities. Farmer engagement remains challenging, however, and the largest ethanol companies in the world are doing their best to articulate a value proposition that convinces growers to join them. The whole thing works if, and only if, growers understand what’s in it for them, and a growing number of them do. 

This month’s cover story, on page 30, follows a parallel storyline taking place further upstream in the ethanol industry. Holly Jessen, EPM managing editor, looks at the commercial roll-out of Syngenta’s Enogen corn, the first grain bio-engineered specifically for ethanol production. Enogen has alpha amylase enzyme built into it, and it's now fully deregulated and in the early stages of commercial adoption. Three U.S. ethanol plants have signed on to use the corn and another eight facilities have trial agreements in place. Jessen tells us that about 65,000 acres of Enogen corn was planted in four states this year and Syngenta expects to exceed 100,000 acres next year. Like stover projects, the viability of enzyme-laden corn lies in grower buy-in. Corn growers like James Doxtad, the Iowa farmer pictured on our cover, are planting Enogen because there’s upside in it for him. On delivery, Doxtad will receive a premium price for the high-tech grain. The value proposition is clear.  

Likewise, ethanol plants are adopting Enogen because they see it as, perhaps, the next big advancement in production efficiency. The product has the potential to yield big decreases in water and power consumption. The value proposition is clear.

Producers are doing an astounding job working with farmers in Iowa and Nebraska to convince them that corn stover harvesting can be done sustainably and profitably. Poet-DSM, DuPont and Abengoa have already signed on several hundred farmers to their projects. They understand that to achieve the massive quantities of stover residue needed to fuel a second big wave of ethanol plant construction in the Corn Belt, growers will need to see a direct and immediate benefit when they allow residue to leave their land. They know that if the value proposition is clear, farmers will deliver.