After slipping onto the market in 1993, high-oil corn hybrids have steadily spread over more and more acres, to cover an estimated one million acres this year.

The appeal of these “nutritionally enhanced” hybrids is obvious. Corn has no equal as an efficient energy source for livestock. But replace some of the starch in the conventional corn kernel with oil, or energy, and corn's value as a feedstuff soars. Today's high-oil hybrids have 50 to 100% more oil and a higher level of total protein than standard yellow dent corn. That total protein's quality is improved as well, with higher levels of key amino acids — about 16% more lysine, 6% more methionine and 15% more tryptophan.

Because high-oil corn can reduce the need to add fat for energy in rations or to add soy or other oils to control dust, livestock and poultry producers have come to appreciate the commodity's potential savings and convenience.

What's new

Most all seed companies offer a package of value-added corn hybrids, and this year growers have a host of new numbers to choose from.

Land O'Lakes' Croplan Genetics has a lineup of high-oil Energy Dense hybrids ranging from 90- to 117-day relative maturity. Dr. Tom Burmood, specialty corn product manager, says two new hybrids are being offered this year. “The Bt gene has been added to one of our existing Energy Dense hybrids, and Supercede 557NE, a high-oil, higher-protein single-cross hybrid, is also being introduced.”

The company also offers growers four NutriDense hybrids. These value-added hybrids feature energy levels that are only slightly higher than those of conventional corn but boast significantly elevated protein levels. Burmood says the company has no new releases this year, “but we're testing some hybrids that our genetic supplier — Dupont Specialty Grains — says represents the next generation of TopCross products in terms of agronomic performance.” Yield goals have been met, he says, but the hybrid's standability remains under scrutiny.

Among the first companies to incorporate Dupont's TopCross production technology into its own proprietary male sterile hybrids, Wyffels Hybrids of Atkinson, IL, is hanging its corporate hat on the value-added premise. High-oil corn accounts for nearly 50% of the independent seed company's products. This year alone, Wyffels is adding 13 new high-oil TC Blends ranging from 105-day W4835 to 117-day W8950. Three of the new products have the added bonus of YieldGard insect protection.

Pioneer Hi-Bred International approaches value-added corn with an emphasis on yield. “We advise growers to pick a hybrid based on yield and agronomic characteristics first, then regard any additional nutritional traits like high oil or high protein as a bonus,” says Linda Wyss, corn product manager. “For example, last year's new 34B25 is a 108-day hybrid with excellent yields and high oil content. And we have several other hybrids that score high in yield and oil content or yield and protein content. Our sales representatives have information on the oil, starch and protein content of most all of our major hybrids and can also advise growers on production practices unique to the crop.”

Mycogen Seeds offers growers Supercede 2654, a 107-day hybrid with elevated oil content and higher levels of essential amino acids. Corn product manager Pat Arthur says the product, new last year, appeals particularly to poultry and hog producers as well as to contract growers tapping into the export market.

Growing considerations

Production practices for high-oil corn hybrids are similar to those for normal grain hybrids. Growers use the same weed and insect control as with conventional high-performance hybrids. High field fertility, especially for nitrogen levels, is also recommended for trait expression. Beyond that, though, some company agronomists advise isolating fields from other corn hybrids. Others recommend planting value-added corn in large blocks to minimize dilution of oil content at field edges caused by pollen drift from neighboring fields.

Identity preservation is key. To maintain the integrity of the seed, a grower should start with a clean planter and should thoroughly clean harvest equipment before harvesting the high-oil grain. To further maintain the crop's added value, the grower must preserve its identity in storage. This means matching storage bin size to estimated yield so that the grain can be stored separate from conventional hybrids.

Marketing the crop

Livestock and poultry producers have an obvious on-farm market for their high-oil, high-protein corn crops. In fact, says Croplan Genetics' Burmood, “this is where we've seen recent growth; the number of livestock producers growing their own high-oil corn has increased.” Beyond that, he says, interest in the crop, which has grown steadily since its introduction, seems to have leveled off this year. One reason, he speculates, is that “premiums offered producers for these crops are relatively low — currently just 15 to 20 cents.” Growers also have to pencil out the economics of high-oil corn vs. soybeans as well as this year's cost and shortage of nitrogen fertilizer and fuel.

Resources are available for growers interested in exploring their options. Wyffels' seed representatives, for instance, provide general and product-specific information to prospective contract growers, and information also is available at 800/369-7833.

Dow AgroSciences facilitates contracting opportunities for its Supercede products through a relationship with E-Markets ChanneLink. Interested growers can access www.E-markets.com and search for markets in their areas.

Dupont Specialty Grains works to develop export and domestic markets for its TopCross products, contracting with growers with participating elevators acting as agents. “Any market that we develop within Dupont Specialty Grains could potentially be on the Oscar Value Chain system,” says Tami Baker, Dupont Specialty Grains grain contracting and seed industry coordinator.

According to Baker, the Web-based system (http://oscar.DuPontsg.com) provides potential growers with a wealth of information. “By entering their zip code or state, they can access any domestic or export marketing opportunities within their state or within a given radius of their zip code. Growers can learn the terms of contracts, premiums (if any), delivery facility, contact names, seed companies where they can purchase the seed and any basic restrictions or features of the program.”

What's coming down the row

With foreign and domestic markets for value-added corn being developed and expanded, new science continues to come up with innovations to fuel the marketing fires.

“Right now the action is in high oil,” says Bill Seglar, DVM, Pioneer staff veterinarian. “But low-phytate hybrids are on the way. Monogastric animals don't have the ability to break down the bound phosphorus in grain, so it ends up being excreted and polluting the environment. With environmental regulations increasing, poultry and swine producers will be very interested in new low-phytate hybrids.” Several experimental hybrids have exhibited strong yield levels and agronomic traits and are in wide-area testing this year.