In the past 2 weeks, I’ve had a chance to ‘windshield’ tour much of the northern Iowa and southern Minnesota corn crop. An impressive crop in the making, if we can continue to get timely rains and heat units for crop development.
With general rainfall across the corn belt, and no major heat waves, the markets are optimistic regarding the ability of US producers to once again grow enough grain to meet our increasing demands. However, it won’t be long and many will be thinking about the possibility of an early frost. I thought about this on Friday morning, but from a slightly different perspective.
Currently, the dry-mill ethanol industry has a yield of 2.8-2.9 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. In the pork industry, we yield approximately 1 market hog for every 10 bushels of corn.
In the event of an early freeze, it appears that the pork industry has an advantage over the ethanol industry. There is very good data available to suggest that frost damaged corn is very similar to normal corn when used in swine grow-finish diets on a weight basis, at least until test weight is something below 50 pounds per bushel. However, what about the ethanol industry – what is the value of frost damaged corn to their process?
The ethanol industry harvests ethanol produced from the fermentation of the starch in the corn kernel. When corn is damaged by an early freeze, there is less starch in the kernel. This suggests that if there is an early freeze and corn development is arrested short of ‘black-layer’, quality corn for the ethanol process will be at a premium. Stated another way, frost damaged corn will most likely be severely discounted by the ethanol plants.
While no one wants to see or experience an early freeze, the pork industry is in a better position to use the result of such an event. One more reason pork production is important to rural communities.