OMAHA (DTN) -- Enogen corn was introduced originally to aid in ethanol production. Now the specialty corn that contains increased amounts of the alpha-amylase enzyme is finding its way into cattle rations.
That's good news for corn growers such as Randy Uhrmacher, a Hastings, Nebraska, farmer looking to add additional market value to corn. University of Nebraska research is also showing Enogen hybrids provide more available energy when the corn is fed to feedlot cattle as a harvested crop or silage for both beef and dairy cattle.
One challenge the specialty corn faces is it does require special segregation measures. When first introduced for ethanol use in 2011, the milling industry squawked at the risk Enogen presented if its pollen should cross into food grade corn fields. Presence of the enzyme is not good for processes that produce masa tortillas and corn-based snack foods.
Syngenta Commercial Traits Product Lead Duane Martin said when Enogen hybrids were developed, the company was entirely focused on the ethanol market. The fact they discovered the higher levels of the enzyme could also improve cattle feeding efficiency was yet another benefit of the hybrid, he said.
The higher levels of the alpha-amylase enzyme in these hybrids help break down sugar into energy more efficiently, Martin said. This is an advantage in both ethanol production and feeding cattle.
By using Enogen corn, ethanol plants reduce the viscosity of corn mash and eliminate the need to add a liquid form of the enzyme. This represents a cost savings from reduced natural gas, energy, water and chemical use.
Randy Uhrmacher has raised Enogen hybrids for three growing seasons and is planning a fourth crop in 2018. He grows it on a relatively small percentage of his total acreage (178 acres in 2018) and sees a premium when he delivers it to his local ethanol plant.
"I have been getting a 40-cent a bushel premium," Uhrmacher said. "There are two hours a day they take the corn in mainly March and April and the lines are fairly small."
For Enogen Feed hybrids, Martin said the idea is generally the same for cattle. "Enogen feed grain and silage offers a step-change in starch and sugar availability in the digestive process," he said. "By converting starch into sugar more efficiently and rapidly, it enables an increase in available energy."
University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension conducted a series of studies on Enogen Feed hybrids being fed to feedlot cattle.
The studies included five different feeding experiments and one digestive study in multiple research facilities across the state of Nebraska over a five-year period, according to UNL Beef Feedlot Extension Specialist Galen Erickson. In the different studies, cattle were fed regular yellow corn, Enogen corn and a 50%-50% mix of the two types of corn along with different feed byproducts.
Cattle cannot digest starch very easily, unlike other species like hogs and poultry. The added enzyme helps to break down the starch into simple sugars more efficiently, Erickson said.
"What the studies concluded was there was some increase in intestinal starch digestion using the Enogen corn," Erickson told DTN.
Normal intestinal digestion in feedlot cattle ranges from 50% to 65%. In the studies, cattle were fed "control corn" (regular yellow corn) and digestibility was around 55%. Feedlot cattle fed the Enogen Feed hybrids saw their digestibility increase to around 65% to 70%, Erickson said.
In addition, cattle fed these hybrids had an improvement in feed conversion, meaning it took less feed to put on weight gain, which calculated as a 1% to 17% improvement in the corn being fed.
These increases were only seen in studies where dry-rolled corn was fed, he said. Studies utilizing Enogen corn fed as high moisture corn did not see the improvement in these feeding measures.
While the research showed some advantages in feeding the Enogen corn, the results were not consistent in every study.
Erickson said the variability of some of the responses in the different studies did concern him. The Enogen corn was often fed with different feed byproducts, which could have led to varying results, he said.
"We still have more to figure out when it comes to feeding these (Enogen corn)," Erickson said.
While there has to be more research done on this subject, Erickson does believe that Enogen Feed hybrids offer some value as a feed source, especially for the farmer/feeder.
Erickson said if they are already growing corn to feed to their cattle then trying this type of hybrid doesn't represent much risk to them. No digestion problems were seen and yet small to relatively large improvements in performance were seen, he said.
Syngenta's Martin said a limited amount of Enogen Feed hybrids were sold in fall of 2016 to be planted in the 2017 growing season. This corn was harvested as silage and for grain and is now being fed to cattle.
Martin said somewhere from 250,000 to 300,000 acres of Enogen Feed hybrids will be planted in 2018. Interest in the hybrids is growing, and more acres are expected to be planted in future growing seasons.
"We expect to be growing from these levels as we have had a significant amount of interest, especially from the farmer/feeder group," Martin said.
Here are links to the 2016 UNL Beef Cattle Report research on Enogen Corn:
Here is a link to the 2018 UNL Beef Cattle Report research on Enogen Corn:
Russ Quinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN
© Copyright 2018 DTN/The Progressive Farmer. All rights reserved.