Annual corn harvest
Ethanol plant makes impact on area farmers’ crops
The ethanol blend of fuel that's on sale at gasoline pumps may have homegrown roots.
As usual for this time of year, lumbering combines wind their way through rows of corn, bringing in summer's gold during the autumn harvest.
In the past, according to Jere White, executive director of the Kansas Corn Commission, about 90 percent of the corn raised in eastern Kansas wound up being used as poultry feed in southwest Missouri. Much of the rest, White said, was shipped to other countries.
But a new ethanol plant in Garnett -- East Kansas Agri-Energy -- is expected to slightly skew those percentages.
The Garnett ethanol plant, which opened in June, is predicted to turn some 13 million bushels of corn into 35 million gallons of ethanol in a year's time. For comparison, last year's Kansas corn crop, which was a record year, yielded 432 million bushels.
White said he expects that primarily farmers who live 30 to 60 miles from Garnett will haul corn to the ethanol plant.
But some corn raised in Leavenworth County and sold to grain elevators eventually may make its way to the Garnett plant, as well as to other ethanol plants.
This is part of a global marketplace, said White, who noted that byproducts of ethanol production, such as distillers grain, are shipped as far as Korea.
The new eastern Kansas ethanol plant could benefit Leavenworth County farmers by removing a portion of grain from traditional markets.
"So it should help slightly with the supply and demand balance to farmers," White said.
The ethanol market represents a growth opportunity to farmers.
"With livestock feeding, while it's our most important market and our largest market, we generally don't see a whole lot more cattle on a 10- to 15-year trend line," White said. "We grow more corn on an average year -- our genetics improve that much -- so we constantly have to be looking for an expanded market or a new market."
And, he said, this is where ethanol steps in.
He noted ethanol is often used as a gas extender, with gasoline mixtures containing 10 or 15 percent ethanol.
"Production is definitely on the increase nationally," White said, adding that ethanol consumption was on the rise as well.
"The demand for ethanol is exceeding what was available," White said. "We're using down what reserve stock we have. There's pressure on the gas with Katrina and that disruption is adding to it."
Rain slows harvest start
Locally, corn harvest is under way, though possibly not as far under way as producers would like.
Edna Elder, whose family farms west of Linwood, said Monday that harvest has been slow.
"With the rains and wet ground and trying to get the trucks through the fields, it hasn't been very progressive," Elder said.
Most of the corn that has come in has looked pretty good, Elder said, noting though, that it's lacking last year's bin-buster quantities.
A year ago, she said, some of their fields brought in 150 to 200 bushels an acre. This year, one of the better fields they've harvested yielded 100 bushels.
"The rest if it that they've been in is down considerably from last year," Elder said.
One thing that's worrying her, she said, is that the corn in one field, still in the ears, was starting to sprout.
She explained that when corn is green, or not yet mature, the ears point upward. And she noted,
"If the ear stands straight up when it rains, it holds in the water around the corn and it will start to sprout around the base," Elder said. "Of course it's hard to sell if you've got the sprouting in it and of course it cuts the quality down considerably."
Rick Abel, the executive director of the Farm Service Agency for Leavenworth and Atchison counties, said this was the first report he'd heard of corn sprouting.
He said any guesses as to whether this could be a problem for area producers would be "a stab in the dark."
"I can see that happening," Abel said. "Because in places there Friday we had three to four inches of rain. In that greener corn if the end of the ear was exposed at all and it took on any moisture, it could be subject to some sprout damage. I think it would be too early to take a guess as to how much was affected."
However, Abel said, there is more green corn than normal for this late in the season. That's because a mid-April frost killed corn crops, especially hitting low-lying areas.
Some farmer replanted, and those are some of the green fields now.
And some farmers didn't replant.
"I think they were pleasantly surprised," Abel said. "They grew back out of it and it's a pretty good crop in places."
Abel said Leavenworth County farmers planted between 25,000 and 30,000 acres of corn this year.
"It's a little up from prior years because of the scare that was placed on soybean projections with the Asian rust," Abel said, noting that county farmers generally plant about 35,000 to 40,000 acres of soybeans each year.