Anyone who follows market prices for farm commodities knows how bleak the agricultural picture can be. One hope for farmers is to find new markets. Foreign buyers, in particular, are aggressively sought.
One emerging market for corn growers is the increasing demand for ethanol, a fuel additive that is blended with unleaded gasoline to produce a cleaner burning fuel. There currently are two ethanol plants in Missouri, both in northern Missouri, producing about 30 million gallons of ethanol annually.
A recent study commissioned by farm organizations, including the Missouri Corn Growers Association, indicates demand for ethanol in the state currently exceeds production. The study says ethanol consumption will be about 40 million gallons this year. And, the study says, that demand will more than double in the next decade.
Looking at the potential demand for cleaner fuels and the ability of Missouri farmers to grow enough corn to be turned into fuel, the study concludes that current market conditions would support three more ethanol plants, each producing about 50 million gallons a year.
The study suggests that the new plants be located where corn is grown. So it is no surprise that the study lists several Southeast Missouri counties as having prime potential for an ethanol plant, along with corn-producing counties in central and northern counties of the state.
There is no question that the backers of the study are focused on ways to create more demand and more sales for corn.
But if the study's findings are accurate, ethanol could become a key factor for corn growers.
The study didn't go so far as suggesting how to attract investment in ethanol plants. But if the feasibility and demand are there, it can be expected that companies with the financial backing to expand ethanol output in the state will soon follow.
New ethanol plants have just been announced in Illinois, and corn producers in other parts of the country are also looking for ways to attract interest in the fuel blend.
Federal air-pollution standards now dictate that major urban areas require cleaner fuel blends wherever gasoline is sold. This usually means higher per-gallon costs for fuel in those areas.
It has been shown that some additives are actually more of an environmental concern that plain unleaded gasoline. But ethanol blends produce the desired clean-air results.
For Missouri's corn growers, ethanol could be a solid new market.