Sorghum Ethanol in Spotlight

USDA announces funding for producers not using corn
By Holly Jessen | November 15, 2011

Fourteen ethanol producers from Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas will receive a total of $11.5 million in payments through the USDA's Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels program, the agency announced Oct. 31. Payments are calculated based on advanced biofuels produced from renewable biomass other than corn starch. Also on the list of producers that will receive payments are biodiesel and pellet producers as well as anaerobic digestion units

Ethanol production from sorghum qualifies, according to the National Sorghum Producers. Participating producers are paid quarterly with an additional incremental production payment that’s calculated at the end of the fiscal year. Of the fourteen producers, White Energy Inc. had the highest award at more than $3.1 million. White Energy owns three plants with a total capacity of 275 MMgy. Two of the plants are located in Texas, White Energy Hereford LLC and White Energy Plainview LLC. The third plant is in Russell, Kan. The producer that received the smallest award was Central Indiana Ethanol LLC at $120,490.

Sorghum is known as a drought-tolerant crop and was planted on about 4.8 million acres in 21 states in 2010, according to the NSP. The top five sorghum producing states were Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and South Dakota. Kansas’ spot at the top of the list is clear, as the lion’s share of funding awards— eight total—were at Kansas ethanol plants.  In fact, of the total $11.5 million awarded, nearly half went to Kansas ethanol producers.

A 2009 study prepared for the United Sorghum Checkoff Program showed that 43 percent of the sorghum produced in Kansas and 23 percent of the sorghum produced in Texas is used to make ethanol. At the time of the study, all of the plants in Kansas and Texas planned to use some percentage of sorghum in producing ethanol and some of those plants use 100 percent sorghum. On average, the plants used 48 percent corn and 52 percent sorghum. 

—Holly Jessen