Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.07.2005

New thinking brings rewards

Photo of Bruce Stockman, Rod Bristow and Stewart Rendell

by Bruce Stockman, executive director, Minnesota Corn Growers, reports on how some US growers have responded to biofuels

[Photo by The Guardian, Swan Hill: Value-adding opportunities: Bruce Stockman (left) with Rod Bristow, development manager of Australian Ethanol, and Stewart Rendell from Swan Hill Chemicals. They are displaying maize harvested in Swan Hill]

If we never look at things any differently than we have in the past, we tend to repeat the same things over and over, and therefore get the same kind of results over and over. To change the results, we must first change the way we think and act. We need to ask if we want change, and, if so, what information do we need to help form new ideas and actions.

Changing the way we see a situation is why grain in Minnesota is no longer just livestock feed. We have changed how we look at what we produce, and have acted on that revised outlook.

For the past 40 years or so, grain production in the US has been driven by economies of scale. Farmers in the Midwest for the most part have concentrated on lowering their production costs in an attempt to capture traditional markets for feed, food and fibre.

Often, this has meant larger farm operations and fewer producers farming more land. However, this model, by its definition, means that fewer and fewer producers will be able to operate successfully, as not only will farming practices need to become increasingly efficient, but traditional markets must grow at least as fast as grain production.

A different way of looking at this challenge has been to see our crops as something completely different - as renewable sources of energy. Science tells us that almost anything that is made from petroleum can also be made from our crops. And, remarkably, what remains of the feedstock after processing can still contain most of the nutrients needed for livestock feed.

Producing crops as a feedstock for energy, like ethanol and biodiesel, gives farmers several advantages:

First, it opens a new market (energy) that shows no signs of shrinking. With the oil business in a continual state of near-crisis, the demand for renewable energy sources is expected to grow.

Second, producing crops for energy can allow - certainly in the US - farmers to participate in value-added opportunities like farmer-invested businesses. By investing in these entities, they are positioning themselves to share in more of the value of what they produce.

Third, traditional markets can still be served, because co-products of ethanol production can still be sold as high-quality animal rations.

Following my recent visit to Australia for Grains Week, I observed a potential in Australia for the development of new enduses like biofuels because Australian growers are also looking for market options. And a big advantage is having an organisation like GRDC which can provide a clear focus for this type of research and development.

I have observed already how it has set out to help Australian grain producers change the way they look at their production, gather new information, and stimulate creative thinking. This is a tremendopus advange for any industry during times of change.

For more information: Bruce Stockman, stockman@mncorn.org