The corn market in Ken­tucky is on its way to further expansion, thanks to a $4.2 million Higher Blends Infra­structure Incentive Program grant through the U.S. Department of Agri­culture.

According to the Rural Development USDA website, the grant helps transportation fueling and biodiesel distribution facilities convert to higher ethanol and biodiesel blends by sharing costs related to the installation of fuel pumps, related equipment and infrastructure.

The HBIIP consists of up to $100 million for competitive grants or sales incentives to eligible entities for activities designed to expand the sale and use of ethanol and biodiesel fuels.

In early October, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the USDA invested $22 million out of the up to $100 million in grants available in 14 states. This includes the $4.2 million grant awarded Friday to Thorntons LLC in Versailles.

Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles said the $4.2 million grant will upgrade 290 dispensaries at 34 different fueling stations throughout the state.

“In Kentucky, we are a large grain state,” he said during Friday’s event, noting most corn in the state used to go to animal feed. “But increasingly, we liquefied Kentucky Proud corn to not only our state’s signature drink bourbon but increasingly more into ethanol. As America becomes more energy independent, it is so important to realize that we can create markets for our farms right here in Kentucky.”

With Friday’s grant and the future infrastructure updates, Quarles said they hope more Kentuckians will put corn into their gas tanks and “help support our local farm economy.”

Rebeckah Adcock, USDA administrator of the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, said its estimated the investment will lead to the sale of roughly 66 million more gallons of ethanol. She said the equates to about 178 million bushels of corn.

“For ethanol alone that is a lot of busheled corn and that is only for the state of Kentucky,” she said.

Ray Allan Mackey, an Hardin County farmer and chairman for the Kentucky Corn Promotion Council, gave a few remarks on behalf of farmers at the announcement Friday.

Mackey said the Kentucky Corn Promotion Council’s priority is to create more opportunity for corn farmers in Kentucky.

“Our main strategy to do that, of course, is by increasing corn demand. We have partnered for many years with Thorntons on infrastructure that gives their customers better access to ethanol and we plan to be a partner with them in this program as well,” he said in prepared comments.

Each year, Mackey said roughly 30 percent of field corn goes into fuel ethanol. Ethanol is the second-largest customer for U.S. corn. He said its production also provides an important co-product, distillers’ grains, which is a high-protein animal feed. He also noted distillers grains provide a high-quality feed resource to the nation’s livestock industry.

“Corn farmers continue to utilize technology to sustainably grow more on less land. With another potentially large carryout this year, we need to find uses for our crop,” he said. “The expansion of the ethanol market would be a reliable market for corn farmers in the future.”

Mackey said ethanol boosts the farm economy and benefits society because it is a renewable resource and environmentally friendly.

Increased availability of mid-level blends of ethanol has a proven ability to clean air and improve health, gives consumers more choices at the pump and revitalizes adds value and improves the rural economy, he said.

“We see a bright future for ethanol because we know the benefits it gives to society,” he said.

Mary Alford can be reached at 270-505-1741 or malford@thenewsenterprise.com.

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