|AgJournal |  Home | New Crops Vault In Value | Feature||May 23, 2013|
New crops vault in value
Door open for record white corn exports
Exports of white food-grade corn from the United States could reach 45 million bushels in 1999 and 60 million bushels next year. That's compared to an average of 20 to 30 million bushels annually through the 1990s, said Dick Leonard, Vineyard Seed food corn specialist for Cargill Hybrid Seeds.
A strong increase in export demand comes at an opportune time for U.S. growers who are faced with low prices for No. 2 yellow feed-grade corn. "The interest in white corn is phenomenal," Leonard said. "We could see between 900,000 and 1 million acres planted in white corn this year."
Until the 1920s, there was as much white corn grown in the United States as yellow corn. Americans preferred white corn in food products, while yellow corn was reserved for animal feed. With increased emphasis on hybrid corn research in the 1930s, however, the focus shifted almost exclusively to yellow corn and stayed there for 50 years.
But, starting in the 1980s, U.S. consumers developed a strong taste for the foods of Mexico, where the preference is still for white corn. In a country where salsa now outsells ketchup, many people favor large, lightly flavored chips made from white corn.
In 1984, plant breeder Marvin Vineyard and his son, David, founded Vineyard Seed to capitalize on the revitalized market for white corn. Vineyard Seed is now part of Cargill Hybrid Seeds, which acquired the business in 1995. During the same period, food-processing firms such as Frito-Lay, Azteca and Minsa added plant capacity to meet consumer demand for tortillas and corn chips. In recent years, other seed companies, like Pioneer and Novartis, have also introduced white corn hybrids.
Domestic demand for white is still increasing slightly, has leveled off from when it was increasing 10 to 15 percent annually, Leonard says. The strong boost in export demand stems from a short crop in South Africa and relaxation of import barriers in Mexico.
South Africa is the major competitor to the United States in the white corn export market. The country has about 25 million acres in agricultural production, with corn accounting for more than one-third of it. Dry, hot weather has diminished the country's capacity to produce white corn, however, Leonard said.
From 50 to 60 percent of white corn in the United States is grown under contract with premiums for quality of anywhere from 25 to 70 cents per bushel over the price for No. 2 yellow corn. However, if supplies of white corn for the export market become tight, premiums on the open market could soar to 90 cents to $1 per bushel.
Opening International Opportunities
Growing white corn has opened up new, international opportunities for Ron York, who farms with his sons near Jacksonville, IL. He has sold white corn to a buyer in Venezuela and contracted with the Cargill elevator in Florence, IL, to produce enough white corn to fill six Mississippi River barges.
Terry Wolf also knows about growing overseas demand for food corn from personal experience. The Homer, IL, farmer serves on the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and in that capacity represents Illinois on the U.S. Grains Council (USGC). He has visited Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia on USGC trade missions and recently returned from an international summit on biodiversity in Cartagena, Colombia (see our AgProfile).
"Food corn is a staple in these countries," Wolf says. "But they can't produce it fast enough to meet demand, so they're looking to the United States for additional supplies."
"I started growing food corn for Frito-Lay in 1982," Wolf says. "That was the year Frito-Lay built a food corn handling facility at Sidney, IL. The plant now processes 10 million bushels of corn per year and adds at least $4 million to annual farm income in the surrounding area," Wolf estimates.
"Food corn requires a little more work than field corn and there's some risk," he explains. Because quality is a concern, Wolf uses a Case International rotary combine set at its slowest rotor speed -- about 280 rpm -- to harvest his crop with the least amount of cracking and breakage. He's also required to let the corn field-dry to 20 percent moisture.
"That increases your chances of field loss," he says. "But getting the quality premium more than makes up for it."
Emphasis On Kernel Quality
Farmers who contract to grow white corn for the Frito-Lay elevator in Sidney may earn quality premiums from 10 to 30 cents per bushel for their crop. The average premium earned is 15 cents per bushel, says Jerry Walsh, manager of the Sidney facility.
Percentage of broken kernels is the main criterion for paying premiums. "We have a graduated scale starting at 5 percent breakage," Walsh explains. With that as the absolute maximum of broken kernels that Frito-Lay will accept, the company starts paying extra for percentage points of less than 5 percent.
Kernel integrity is essential for both white and yellow food-grade corn. "We need corn with a hard endosperm and a light hull for our alkaline cooking process, which is standard in the food corn industry," Walsh says. "Also, the hulls must slip off easily. Otherwise you get ugly corn chips and plugged equipment."
The corn must not only be delivered from the farm with a minimum of damage, the kernels must be hard enough to pass through conveyors and grain legs at the Frito-Lay facility without breaking, Walsh explains.
There is an additional requirement for white corn: It must really be white. "We look for a pearly-white color," Walsh says. "Tortilla chips must not look brownish."
Other than those special qualities, growers should look for the same agronomic traits in white corn as they do in any hybrid: yield, quick emergence, standability and disease resistance.
"The growers with whom we contract normally have very little trouble meeting our specifications," Walsh says. "We have a stable base of grower-suppliers, but as our business grows, we're always ready to add more."
Check out Frito-Lay's white corn handling facilities.
Frito-Lay also maintains a Web site for consumers.
Minsa's Web site is entitled Harvesting for the New Millenium.
For information on Azteca, check here.
You can find about Vineyard Seeds white corn hybrids at the Cargill Hybrid Seeds Web site.
Results of 1998 white food-grade corn trials can be obtained on-line.
The White Food Corn: 1998 Performance Tests report gives yield data of early/mid-season, and full-season hybrids grown in U.S. and Canadian test plots. Ohio State and Purdue universities participated in the program coordinated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
See the report at here.
May 23, 2013
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