New starch-oil composite has many uses

Mixing two of the most abundant ag commodities was hardly a witches' brew. But researchers have found a way to combine the previously incompatible cornstarch and soybean oil to make a product with a broad range of farm, food and industrial uses.

Called Fantesk, the new starch-oil composite is being tested as a seed coating and as a fat replacer to improve flavor in puddings, ice cream, baked goods, cheese and yogurts.

A recent invention patented by George Fanta and the late Kenneth Eskins at USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, Fantesk can be made not only from cornstarch and soybean oil, but from essentially any starch source combined with any oil or fat.

Fantesk is the main component in a new seed coating developed by Seedbiotics Corp., in cooperation with USDA. SB2000 - the first organic-based seed coating polymer - was created by Bing-Rui Ni, a seed physiologist and Seedbiotics' director of research and development, and chemist Damodar Patil. The coating slows water uptake, which reduces chilling injury in cold, wet soils. Since Fantesk is a microdispersion of oil in starch, it can also be used to deliver oil-soluble pesticides to the surface of seeds.

Seedbiotics has conducted several years of field trials on corn and soybeans with SB2000 and has seen big improvements in germination and emergence.

Croplan Genetics also tried the coating after having concerns with rapid moisture uptake. "We used SB2000 on a trial basis with some of our soybeans," says Steve Williams, the company's eastern soybean product manager. "We had outstanding results on some plots and neutral results on others.

"We're still exploring the technology and cost-effectiveness of the coating. For 2001, we're using it on our soybean seed protectant package," he says.

Croplan Genetics will conduct trials on winter wheat next.

Fantesk can also be used to deliver fragrances. For example, sweet orange oil can be encapsulated into Fantesk powders that will retain the scent for a prolonged period.

Here are three more exciting new uses for corn that are being researched:

- Using a corn protein called zein, USDA-ARS scientists made a biodegradable coating to replace wax on paper. It's an environmentally friendly coating that can be used on any packaging material that requires waterproofing.

- NatureWorks PLA products by Cargill Dow Polymers are transparent packaging materials much like cellophane.

- Sorona 3GT, developed by DuPont, offers unique properties for polyester clothing. A pilot plant for the corn-based process should be operational later this year. A commercial facility is expected by 2003.

Sticky trap counts for wheat aphids are running at higher than normal rates in Tennessee this fall, prompting more seed treatments and the need for aphicide sprays as wheat emerges.

"In two of our big wheat counties, Weakley and Obion, 20,000 bushels of seed wheat had been treated with Gaucho by late October," says Mel Newman, extension plant pathologist. "A foliar treatment with Warrior is an option in fields that weren't treated."

Aphids feed on plants in the fall, infecting them with a virus that causes stunting and yield loss. That's why seed treatments and fungicides are recommended now, says Newman. Yield gains of 5-10 bu/acre have been common in trials, and Newman suspects some high-production growers probably make better gains than that by addressing the problem early.

The primary species found on sticky traps this fall has been the oakbird cherry aphid, based on assays by Russ Patrick, Tennessee extension entomologist. The state has 15 monitoring points for sticky cards this season. County agents and cooperators change the cards weekly and mail the exposed ones to Patrick for identification.

This is shaping up to be a worse year than 1999-2000 for aphid damage, says Newman. Mild winters are blamed for aphid buildup.