Amylase corn to be planted in 2011 |

Amylase corn to be planted in 2011

Greg D. Horstmeier

OMAHA (DTN) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday, Feb. 11, full deregulation of an amylase-producing corn designed for ethanol production, the first true “output trait” corn created by genetic engineering for the U.S. market.

Because it is designed for ethanol, not feed or food uses, the corn will be one of the first tests of a separate production and channeling system for a GE trait. The North American Millers Association spoke against deregulation by USDA due to concerns that if corn with the trait found its way into food processing, it could harm production of items such as corn chips.

The trait itself was approved by the FDA for all food and feed uses.

The corn, known technically as “Event 3272,” was created by Syngenta Seeds and will be sold under that company’s newly created Enogen brand. The first commercial hybrids will be available in 2011, and will be grown under direct contracts with farmers in the Western Corn Belt. This year’s crop will specifically be grown for the Western Plains Energy, LLC ethanol plant in Oakley, KS. Western Plains has been the test facility for Event 3272 corn grown under regulated status. According to Syngenta reports, Western Plains saw an 8 percent increase in ethanol production and an 8 percent reduction in natural gas needs.

The Enogen trait’s advantage is the corn produces its own alpha-amylase enzymes when the kernels are subjected to the heat and humidity of the ethanol production process. Those enzymes break corn starch down into sugar for ethanol production. In standard Yellow No. 2 corn, such enzymes have to be added during production.

Syngenta materials say that for a 100-million-gallon ethanol plant, using Enogen corn, will cut water needs by 450,000 gallons per year, and reduce natural gas usage by 244 billion BTUs. “It amounts to about $10 million, or 8 to 10 cents per gallon of ethanol, in annual reduced costs,” said Jack Bernens, head of technology acceptance for Syngenta Seeds.

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“This will be a very slow, controlled, ramp up of production,” Bernens told DTN. “We’re going through a very deliberate profiling protocol for growers who will be contracted to grow Enogen corn, more stringent than for IP (identity preserved) products such as white or waxy corn.” Bernens said the company will work specifically with ethanol plants and the growers who supply that plant to develop contracted production. Growers must dedicate on-farm storage for Enogen corn, and must follow planter and combine cleanout protocols that will be checked both by Syngenta and by third-party auditors.

He said the company is well aware of the parallels being drawn between Enogen and StarLink, the ill-fated insect-resistant corn that was not approved for human food consumption yet was quickly found in a number of food products following its initial harvest.

“For one, this is a controlled production system compared to that situation, and Enogen is approved for all food and feed uses,” Bernens said. “There is no concern about human health.” The distillers grains from Enogen also have been tested and approved for all normal animal feed uses, he said.

Bernens said the trait is being introduced into elite lines of Syngenta germplasm, and the company has seen no yield reduction from the trait versus hybrids without the amylase trait. He said premiums for the corn are expected to average 40 cents per bushel, due to that reduction in ethanol production costs.

He said Syngenta will work with a growing number of ethanol plants to test Endogen corn. He said the company pledged to also work with food processors to not sell the seed within the supply area of the food processing plant. In most cases, he said, that meant taking a 40-mile-wide berth of a plant processing corn for food.

Still, consumer groups and bakers and millers organizations continue to express concerns about the corn.

“The USDA’s decision defies common sense,” Margaret Mellon, director of the food and environment program of the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a press release. “There is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn. Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards will slip. In this case, there are no required precautions.”