New Ethanol Data Aim to Capture Corn Use

March 17, 2015 12:00 PM
New Ethanol Data Aim to Capture Corn Use

Corn used for ethanol is drawing a lot of attention thanks to USDA’s new monthly Grain Crushings and Co-Products Production report. The next installment is due out April 1.

Power Hour Noon LogoThe survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) includes approximately 130 reports representing 90% of capacity. NASS used the results to extrapolate the remaining 10%.  This provides survey data on how much corn and sorghum is used monthly in ethanol production, as well as the quantity of co-products produced. It does not include how much ethanol is produced.  

NASS statisticians point out the new survey enables them to estimate corn use for ethanol directly rather than by applying a conversion factor to Energy Information Administration (EIA) monthly ethanol production data, which do not break out ethanol from different feedstocks.

The data suggest a higher corn-to-ethanol conversion factor than previously assumed, something biofuel energy sources have indicated for months.

“Unfortunately, calculation of such an implied conversion rate using the two different data series also suggests substantial movement month-to-month in that implied conversion rate,” according to a report from USDAEconomic Research Service. “This raises uncertainty about where such an implied conversion rate will ultimately end up for the year.” 

Corn Clarity Sought. Already this year, USDA reintroduced conversation over ethanol in its March supply and demand estimates. The agency reduced its estimate for corn used for ethanol in 2014/15 by 50 million bushels. Economists assume some of what is not used for fuel and industrial uses will be fed, boosting the feed and residual category.

In the new NASS survey, corn feedstock use is divided among beverage, fuel and industrial alcohol production. Reported co-product production includes distillers’ dried grains and solubles, corn germ meal and corn oil.

It marks the first time data showing levels of feed by-products, such as distillers’ dried grains, distillers’ wet grains, corn gluten feed and corn gluten meal has been collected. In the three months for which NASS has tabulated information, more than 14.6 million tons of those products became available, in addition to almost half a million tons of corn oil that became available for biodiesel production.

USDA will use the new information to better determine impacts on grain feeding. Over time, it should also reduce the use of residual as a buffer and firm up the amount of grain used for fuel.

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