The new Enogen hybrids are nearly ready for harvest on Mike Missman’s fields near Woden, Iowa. Missman planted 160 acres of Syngenta’s new hybrids designed for ethanol production. He expects good yields because his area received timely rains.

Although the Enogen hybrids look like any other with insect- and herbicide-resistant traits, Missman will receive a 40-cent/bu. premium for the Enogen crop when it is delivered to an ethanol plant.

Premium paid

The premium is a first for ethanol hybrids. While other hybrids have been selected for ethanol production, the Enogen hybrids were bioengineered specifically for this purpose. They express the alpha amylase enzyme, which is needed to transform starches to sugars during ethanol production. “The enzyme works on a broad pH and temperature range so processors don’t need to add ammonia or sulfuric acid, or worry about heating and cooling,” explains David Witherspoon, Syngenta’s head, renewable fuels, NAFTA. The cost savings can be substantial for an ethanol plant.

Syngenta first commercialized the Enogen hybrids 1½ years ago after USDA approval. FDA has reviewed it and says it is as safe as conventional corn for food and feed usage. This year, the hybrids were planted on 23,000 acres, including Missman’s fields. Next year, Syngenta plans to sell seed for 100,000 acres.

The Enogen corn from Missman will go to an ethanol plant in Mason City, Iowa, where the grain will be tested. The plant is one of four in the western Corn Belt where tests are being conducted this year.

Stewardship program

“There is a stewardship program with Enogen,” Missman adds. “The program requires a minimum 30-ft. border of non-Enogen hybrids planted around the Enogen field. The non-Enogen should be a similar hybrid.” The corn from the non-Enogen border may be added to the Enogen grain, but it should be blended.

Growers also need to clean out a planter and combine before and after handling Enogen grain. Although these are good practices, Witherspoon says the protocol also makes sure only Enogen corn goes to the ethanol plants. “We will monitor to make sure it is done correctly,” he adds.

A third-party audit was conducted at Missman’s operation, but he says it was simple and helped make sure he was doing everything correctly. “I went to the first preplant meeting last February and was concerned [growing Enogen] would be a lot of paperwork and contracts,” he says. “But it was simple.”

Not all growers will be able to handle the requirements of the Enogen crop, Missman adds. The grain must be kept separate from other grain, and in some large grain systems, that ability will not be possible.

Missman is a big proponent of the new hybrids, especially since he sells Syngenta seed. But a farmer first, Missman puts his own money on the new hybrids and intends to double his acreage next year.