2015 Crop results: Good quality, plentiful corn

The 2015 survey provides snapshot of new crop quality for ethanol production. This story appears in the February issue of EPM.
By Susanne Retka Schill | January 18, 2016

It may not have been a record-breaking corn harvest, but it was close. The USDA estimates 13.654 billion bushels were produced in 2015, down from last year’s record-breaking 14.216 billion bushels, and third largest ever. Of that, 5.2 billion bushels will be delivered to the nation’s ethanol plants to become ethanol and distillers grains.

The U.S. Grains Council survey of the 2015 corn crop found quality to be better than the four-year average on most attributes, mostly due to the favorable growing season. The lower protein concentration in 2015 compared to recent years was attributable to high yields, the USGC report suggests, and offset by higher starch concentration. Starch levels were above 2014 and earlier years. Oil content in the USGC survey was the same as last year, but higher than the four-year average.

For a second time, Ethanol Producer Magazine surveyed a sampling of ethanol producers. Charles Hurburgh, University of Iowa grain quality specialist, helped craft the survey, suggesting additional questions to gain insight on grading practices. All respondents report testing every inbound load for test weight and moisture, and most (85 percent) grade every load for total damage and broken kernels and foreign material. Roughly a quarter of those reporting test every load for protein and oil content and one-third test starch concentration. Composite samples are widely used for other attributes. About half the plants test for protein and oil on the composite samples and 75 percent test for starch concentration.

With mycotoxins being the most critical safety concern, as they get concentrated in the distillers grains, nearly 70 percent of the plants report testing for aflatoxin and 57 percent test for vomitoxin on composite samples. About 28 percent test for aflatoxin on every load, while 17 percent test for vomitoxin on every load. Mycotoxins aren’t a concern this year among ethanol producers—no one responding to the survey reported more than scattered positives and most tests indicated undetectable toxins.

Author: Susanne Retka Schill
Senior Editor, Ethanol Producer Magazine