MidWest Tour Day 5

York and Norfolk, Nebraska...

Pioneer Hybrids York, NE & Green Plains York, NE

by Bradey Couwenberg, Danielle Farquharson, Jake Dietrich, William Kell

Pioneer Hybrids York, NE


Pioneer Hybrids is located in York, Nebraska, USA. The production facility in York started in 1993 and has grown rapidly to serve their customers. This location currently has 27,000 acres of seed corn planted within a 30-mile radius to serve the plant. They produce about 2.5 million bushels per year of seed corn that spans across 87 hybrids. The facility has the storage capacity of 1 million bushels of corn.

Farmer Contracts

One of the main topics we covered about seed corn is how they contract land with farmers for seed corn production. Generally speaking, the farmers come to Pioneer to contract the acres they own for the seed corn production because of the premium Pioneer offers. The price of the seed corn is established on a formula using commercial field corn prices from the Chicago Board of Trade. Duties of the farmer include tillage, planting, fertilizer applications, and destroying the male seed corn rows when the time is right. Pioneer Hybrids pays for disease and insect control, hiring of the de-tassel staff, and the duties of harvest. The average yield for seed corn crop is about 106 bu/ac, while the equivalent hybrid in commercial production had yields as high as 256 bu/ac.

Process of Seed Corn Production

The plant tour consisted of following the seed corn from start to finish. All corn received at this facility arrives in walking floor trailers, allowing for a safer environment as opposed to the previous system of lifting the trailers and dumping them all at once. We were then showed the sorting deck where all the cobs are split between 16 sorting stations that remove all foreign material such as corn stalks and husks. The corn is then moved by conveyor to one of the 120 dryer bins each holding 2-3 semi-truck loads, where it is dried at 110°F for 3 or 4 days. Following drying the corn hits the sheller where the kernels are separated from the cob and sent to the bulk tanks for a quality check. Once it has passed testing it is conditioned (cleaned and sorted by colour, weight and size) and then sent to be seed treated if required before being packaged and shipped to customers. This facility is capable of packing seed as either bulk “pro-boxes” or in bags.

Process of Creating a Commercial Variety

Another topic that was a major learning point of our day was the process of creating a commercial variety of soybeans. The process is referred to as the breeding funnel and starts out with about 30,000 genetic combinations. This process takes about 7-10 years and involves eliminating variations that are not desirable to the breeder. Soybean breeding can only be done using the conventional method due to its flexibility in terms of looking at each variation more specifically and choosing the most desirable traits. In corn, 90% of the variations can be done more rapidly through the double haploid process which is chromosome doubling. The most desirable traits are breeding for photosynthetic efficiency and pest resistance, which in turn creates higher yielding products. Pioneer’s plant breeding team believes that the maximum genetic potential for soybeans based on yield is 120-130 bu/ac.

Informing the Public About Agriculture Technology

Presently Pioneer uses GMO products and is exploring gene editing. Pioneer is placing an emphasis on introducing new technology to better inform the public. As an example, they did a great job of reaching a demographic that is not commonly exposed to agriculture research at the annual Comicon in California, USA. By taking the time to explain how gene editing is safe and will help to overcome challenges within the agriculture industry. Putting an emphasis on Pioneers progressive stance on public relations showing that they believe the future of agriculture is going to involve communicating with consumers as opposed to just selling a product to farmers.

tour group in front of Pioneer sign

Picture 1: The 2019 Midwest tour group outside the Pioneer seed corn production plant

Green Plains Ethanol Plant York, NE


Green Plains is a company with four different operating sectors that include: ethanol, agri-business, feed, and partnerships. The company was formed in 2004 in Iowa and they now own 17 different ethanol plants across the USA. The corporate office is located in Omaha, NE, USA. We visited the Green Plains ethanol plant located in York, NE, USA. At the plant they can produce up to 55 million gallons of ethanol. This location has the ability to produce 2.88 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn. The facility is on 140 acres located near the corner of Interstate 80 and highway 81 and includes a rail siding on BNSF making it an ideal location for transporting commodities. 66% of the corn is sourced locally from farmers and 34% from country elevators and other sources within 50 miles of the facility. They produce 48 million gallons of B-grade industrial ethanol and 7 million gallons of fuel-grade in a year. An interesting fact about the site we visited is, the site is only 30% new construction and the rest was relocated from the southern United States, it was the fourth plant constructed in Nebraska out of the current 26 ethanol plants within the state.

Process of Ethanol Production

The process of making ethanol goes as follows: grain is received and processed through a hammer mill into corn flour. The flour is then moved into a mashing tank where water, steam and enzymes are added. This creates a product of complex sugars. Following this is the fermentation process where enzymes are added and the product turns into a simple sugar. A simple sugar is glucose. Once the product is glucose it is put into a tank and the glucose molecules are consumed by the yeast in an aerobic environment. Then it is moved into an anaerobic environment where it releases CO2 and becomes ethanol. After the separation of alcohol and solids/solubles the by-product of this process is distillers’ grains. Distillers’ grains can be marketed as animal feed. With this process there is opportunity to capture CO2 which can be used for a variety of different markets, one being the production of dry ice.

jars of products from grain to alcohol

Picture 2: Products of the ethanol production process from grain to alcohol

What is a Pilot Plant

A unique aspect of this facility is the pilot plant which is a 1/100 scale of the production facility. This allows Green Plains to put their focus on finding efficiencies to improve the productivity of their ethanol plants, as well as testing new enzymes and yeasts. An example of an advancement in the production efficiency is the planned use of Enogen corn. The genetically modified ccurring enzymes in the Enogen product will allow this facility to completely cut the use of additional enzymes when 10% of Enogen corn is completely blended with yellow corn. While touring the pilot plant we had the oppourtunity to learn about how they are able to do the research on a smaller scale. For example, they had the ability to test how much Enogen corn the facility would need to use to eliminate additional enzymes before they do it this fall in the actual plant.

Subsidies in the Ethanol Industry

One of the topics discussed throughout the tour involved talking about how much of an impact the government plays in the agriculture industry. In terms of ethanol, the government has regulations for protecting the American ethanol industry. The government does this by mandating that all fuel sold in the USA is at least a 10% blend of ethanol. Although, Mitch Stuhr, the manager of Green Plains York figures that even if the government were to remove the subsidies the ethanol business will not go under because of the product it makes. Ethanol is the safest and most economical octane enhancer and is used to upgrade blend stocks from 84 octane to 87 octane which is the same as regular gasoline, or to 91 octanes which is a premium gasoline.

tour group in front of ethanol plant
Picture 3: Group photo outside the Green Plains Ethanol Plant


We would like to thank staff at Pioneer Hybrids and Green Plains for this unique educational experience. Throughout our travels the general rotations in regard to the crops grown in the area is either a 2 year corn:1 year soybeans or 1year corn:1 year soybeans. This is different from the more regular rotations of southwestern Ontario which includes 1 year of wheat in the crop rotation. There is a lot of acres dedicated to corn in the Midwest as this is the more economical crop choice for farmers based on the markets in the area. Markets such as seed corn production and ethanol have been the two main sectors we have been educated on, that are serviced by the ‘Corn Belt’.