U.S. exports of ethanol, distillers grains grow

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Two important government reports issued on May 11 show that American farmers and ethanol producers continue to meet demand.

First, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) made its first estimate of the 2011 corn crop, as well as 2011-12 demand. According to survey data gathered from farmers and historical yield trends, USDA is predicting 92.2 million acres of corn to be planted, 85.1 million harvested acres, and an average yield of 158.7 bushels per acre. This would produce a total crop of 13.5 billion bushels, an all-time record.

“American farmers appear poised to once again respond to market signals and increase their productivity without needing to convert non-agricultural land to cropland,” said Renewable Fuels Association Vice-President of Research and Analysis Geoff Cooper. “Obviously, this is USDA’s first bite at the apple and a lot can change between now and the fall that could make the crop larger or smaller. Nevertheless, by all indications, it appears that farmers are prepared to supply enough corn to meet demand and add to surplus levels.”

Wet weather has slowed corn planting early this spring. However, farmers have made great progress in the last week and a half. Cooper also pointed out that the correlation between planting dates and final yields has been relatively weak historically.

In separate government data also released on May 11, ethanol exports set another record in March, as 84 million gallons of product (denatured and undenatured, non-beverage) were shipped to destinations around the world. These shipments did not qualify for the ethanol blender’s tax credit (VEETC) because they were not blended with gasoline prior to exportation.

Through the first three months of the year, the U.S. has exported 201 million gallons of ethanol, equivalent to half of the amount exported in all of 2010 and almost twice the amount exported in 2009. Year-to-date exports have been equivalent to about 6% of total U.S. production.

“Artificially constrained markets in the U.S. and fears of instability in the policies that impact domestic ethanol production and use are forcing ethanol producers to seek other markets,” said Cooper. “As a recent academic report noted, ethanol kept gasoline prices $0.89/gallon less than they otherwise would have been in 2010. It makes little sense that we are exporting our best cure for higher gas prices while Americans pay $4 for gasoline at the pump. Yet, until we eliminate artificial barriers to greater ethanol use domestically, export markets present real demand opportunities that our industry will continue to explore.”

Denatured ethanol exports totaled a record 58.6 million gallons in March, up 55% from February. Brazil was the top destination for denatured product, receiving 18.9 million gallons. Canada followed with 18 million gallons, while the U.K., United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands rounded out the top five.

As for undenatured (non-beverage) product, the U.S. exported 25.4 million gallons in March, up 17% from February. The Netherlands was the top destination with 6.9 million gallons, while Brazil (5.7 million gallons) was second. Finland, Nigeria and Mexico, respectively, were other leading importers.

March was also a strong month for distillers grains exports, with shipments of 686,098 tonnes being recorded. That’s up 11% from February, but down 2% from March 2010 levels. Mexico was again the top customer, receiving 180,468 tonnes, while China imported 82,960 tonnes. After importing virtually no DDGS in January and February, South Korea took in 60,225 tonnes in March. Canada and Vietnam were other top destinations. Recently, the RFA released an in depth report on the value of distillers grains for both domestic and international markets.
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