MOUNT VERNON — Rising gasoline prices and the uncertainty of foreign petroleum supplies have again turned comsumer’s thoughts to a home grown, renewable fuel alternative — ethanol, which is made from corn.
According to Troy Cooper of the Knox County Ohio State University Extension Office, Knox County growers harvested 7.2 million bushels of corn in 2009.
Some of those local growers raise corn to sell to make ethanol, and their product usually goes to the POET Biorefinery in Marion. Duane McCombs, commodities manager for POET, said they work with well over 80 corn producers from Knox County.
“We source somewhere between 2 1/2 million to 3 million bushels of corn from Knox County,” said McCombs. “We appreciate our Knox County producers. They are very valuable to us.”
Other farmers let local grain elevators handle their corn, and those elevator operators may or may not ship it out for fuel instead of processing it for feed.
Ray McFadden of the Central Ohio Farmers Co-op said they used to send railcars full of corn to Coshocton, but since the ethanol plant was built in Marion, some farmers are making their own contracts and taking it to Marion’s biorefinery.
“We used to sell a lot for ethanol,” said McFadden, “Most of the corn we handle now is loaded into railcars and is feed for the East Coast.”
John Stoneburner, at the Co-op’s main office, does the commodity buying and selling. He said the price of corn is going up because “the more ethanol that is used, the more corn is needed, and we still need corn for feed.”
“We’ve seen [prices for] both fuel and food rise dramatically because of this,” he said. “The farmers are making the same [price] either way. When the price of one goes up, the price of the other goes up. Corn is corn. It doesn’t care if it goes for food or fuel. As we’re using corn for fuel, it makes your food more expensive.”
A useable by-product of ethanol is something called distiller’s grain, a high protein animal feed supplement which can be purchased while it is still wet or after it has dried. Stoneburner said that although dried distillers grain, ddg for short, is an excellent high-protein feed supplement to add to animals’ food, it cannot replace all the corn.
“You still need corn,” he said.
Doug Hawk of Danville Feed and Supply said less than 10 percent of the corn that comes through his facility goes to produce ethanol. He said that is because there is a large feed demand in this part of the country. Danville Feed and Supply does use some ddg from Marion to supplement its feed.
Most of the corn processed at Leve Agri-Man in Fredericktown is used for feed, but some is shipped to the POET plant in Marion, according to manager Mike Smith. He said the amount “depends on how well they are paying.”
“Basically, in order to pay the most that we can to farmers,” Smith continued, “we ship it to wherever will pay us the most. We keep enough here for feed, and about 60 percent of our overflow goes for fuel. We also bring back some ddg to use in feed to replace some of the corn we took out.”