Welcome Rainfall
After one of the driest May’s in recent memory in many portions of southern and western Minnesota, some welcome rainfall was received across much of the region from June 6 to 8. Rainfall amounts varied from slightly over ½ in. in west-central Minnesota to well over 2 in. in parts of south-central and southeastern portions of the state. The rainfall came at a critical time in many areas, as later-planted soybeans had uneven emergence due to dry topsoil conditions, and crop stress was beginning to show on lighter, sandier soils in some locations. This rainfall should help alleviate the short-term dry weather concerns in much of southern Minnesota, especially those areas that received an inch or more of rainfall.

With the recent rainfall, growing conditions for corn and soybeans continue to be very good in most areas of southern Minnesota; however, very cool temperatures in early June have slowed crop development somewhat. Average 24-hour temperatures have been running 8-10° below normal in early June. At the University of Minnesota Southwest Research and Outreach Center at Waseca, the accumulated growing degree units (GDUs) from May 1 to June 8 was 410, which is about 11% below the average GDU accumulation of 461 on June 8. Even though most of the corn in southern Minnesota was planted 7-10 days earlier than normal, it is about at normal development for early June, due to the cool weather that has existed during most of the early growing season in 2009.

Many farm operators have been applying postemergence herbicides for weed control. Additional applications may be required if there is considerable weed growth following the recent rainfall. The first cutting of alfalfa is now completed in many areas. Yields were below average in several locations due to the cool, dry weather pattern this spring. Prospects should improve for second-cutting yields following the recent rainfall.

Ethanol Production Continues To Grow
Total U.S. ethanol production for 2008 was 9 billion gallons, which compares to total U.S. ethanol production of 6.5 billion gallons in 2007, 4.8 billion gallons in 2006 and 1.7 billion gallons as recently as 2001. Projected total U.S. ethanol production for 2009 should be well above 10 billion gallons, which would represent close to 10% of the needed automobile fuel supply in the U.S. The U.S. leads the world in ethanol production, producing over half of the total supply. Brazil is second in world ethanol production, with an estimated 6.4 billion gallons produced in 2008. No other country produced more than 500 million gallons of ethanol in 2008.

There were 170 ethanol plants operating in the U.S. in January 2009, which compares to 140 plants in 2008, 110 plants in 2007 and only 56 plants back in 2001. There are now ethanol plants operating in 26 states. Minnesota ranks fourth in the U.S. in ethanol production, with a production capacity of about 1.1 billion gallons/year. Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production, with a capacity of approximately 3.7 billion gallons/year, and is followed by Nebraska and Illinois.

Short-term ethanol demand seems to have plateaued in the past 12-18 months, at about 800 million gallons/month, which is very close to the average monthly production level in the U.S. As a result, temporary excess ethanol supplies have occurred as new ethanol plants have started up. Current efforts at the federal level to increase the rate of ethanol blending in gasoline from the current 10% up to 12% or 13%, or possibly 15%, would certainly help increase future ethanol usage.

POET Energy Update
POET Biorefining at Lake Crystal, MN, celebrated its fourth anniversary of operation on May 9, 2009. This highly efficient ethanol plant has an annual capacity of approximately 56 million gallons of ethanol per year. Despite weathering some significant economic challenges in 2008, as the entire ethanol industry did, the POET ethanol plant at Lake Crystal has been very successful in its first four years of operation. The availability of the plant consistently adds an additional 4-6¢/bu. to the value of corn in the area throughout the year.

POET Energy, based out of Sioux Falls, SD, operates 26 ethanol plants in seven states that produce well over 1 billion gallons of ethanol per year. POET is the second largest ethanol producer in the U.S., trailing only Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in total ethanol production. POET has been a leader in the development of cellulosic ethanol production, and will have one of the first commercial plants producing cellulosic ethanol in the U.S. at Emmetsburg, IA, starting in 2011.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.