A seed company is using an infrared tool to evaluate the ethanol yield potential of its corn hybrids. According to Joe Foresman, senior marketing manager for quality traits for Pioneer, the result of the screenings are so-called high total fermentable (HTF) hybrids, which can produce more ethanol per bushel than hybrids without the characteristic.

Foresman says over 180 hybrids are marketed as HTF hybrids, also known as ethanol hybrids. Most of the hybrids are produced for the Midwest, where most of the ethanol production capacity is located.

While only a few ethanol hybrids are adaptable to Southern growing regions, Foresman said it may only be a matter of time before more ethanol hybrids make their way to Southern soils.

He pointed out that with the demand for ethanol growing annually, it would not be out of the question to see corn flowing upriver to feed plants. And, as corn acreage grows in the Mid-South, so does the feasibility of building ethanol plants there.

“Long-term, cellulosic ethanol could expand the footprint of the ethanol industry. That's where we may see a more direct relationship, producers in the South having a plant close to them that is not only using grain-based ethanol, but cellulosic feedstocks too.”

Foresman noted that breeding a hybrid to produce more ethanol does not change grain characteristics for feed or food use. “High available starch is good whether you're a dry grind ethanol producer or a livestock producer. It's still quality and it's still energy that is going to be converted. There is a strong correlation between our high fermentable hybrids and our high available energy hybrids.”

Foresman said Pioneer studies indicate a 7 percent range among hybrids in how much ethanol they can produce. “In commercial studies using these high total fermentable hybrids, ethanol producers have been able to move the mean of ethanol yield a total of 4 percent. So in a 100-gallon plant, you can get 4 million additional gallons of ethanol using the same amount of corn, if you used ethanol hybrids.”

In Iowa and Nebraska, up to 80 percent of the hybrids grown are ethanol hybrids.

The HTF designation is assigned to elite Pioneer hybrids based on data from more than 21,600 Pioneer plot samples over the past five years. More than 30 locations and 165 hybrids were sampled.

In the dry-grind ethanol industry, the cost of corn makes up more than 60 percent of the total production cost.