TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

July 26, 2012

‘Energy beets’ gets USDA boost

Whitley County fields to harvest this fall

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer

Patriot Bioenergy Corporation’s plans to fuel its ethanol project with high-sugar “energy beets” got a big spike Wednesday after the U.S. Department of Agriculture deregulated a variety of sugar beet being grown by the company in Whitley County.

The variety is referred to as Roundup Ready, or “RR” sugar beets. Patriot, which is based in Pikeville and has offices in Williamsburg and Lexington, has more than 20 acres of energy beets growing throughout Whitley County.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, or APHIS, notified Patriot’s strategic partner on the beet project, Betaseed, Inc. last Friday. Betaseed was told APHIS deregulated the RR beets, which are genetically engineered to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate.

According to Betaseed’s website, the Shakopee, Minn.-based company is the leading sugar beet supplier for growers in North America.

In a statement from their Pikeville office, Patriot CEO Roger Ford said, “This is an important milestone for our strategic feedstock partner and for Patriot Bioenergy’s project development that will enable us to more efficiently produce feedstock…We are pleased with the USDA action to deregulate Roundup Ready energy beet and look forward to expansion of our field trials as we move forward.”

Field trials on the energy beets have been going on in Whitley County since the spring of last year. This spring, field trials were expanded by Patriot in Whitley and Adair counties.

Harvesting of the energy beets is expected to happen this September and October. Field trials with the beets will also be conducted in September in both counties, along with an expansion into Pike County, in the eastern part of Kentucky.

According to Sugar Journal magazine, the deregulation of the Roundup Ready sugar beets came after APHIS completed “both a thorough environmental impact statement and plant pest risk assessment, holding three public meetings and considering and analyzing thousands of comments regarding its analyses…from the standpoint of plant pest risk, RR sugar beets are as safe as traditionally bred sugar beets.”

Patriot plans to build a plant using natural gas to spark the process to turn the beets into ethanol, which the company says is more efficient than with corn. They plan on using biomass — organic matter such as wood, plants, animal waste and organic compounds — that can be used to make fuels and other products. Biomass can also be converted directly into liquid fuels like ethanol.

A 99-acre piece of land in Williamsburg near the old concrete plant on Savoy Road is being considered for building the ethanol plant. Patriot hopes to have Roundup Ready beets grown from around 6,000 acres of leased farmland around a 90-mile radius of the plant proposed in Williamsburg.

Once the ethanol from the beets is made, the company plans to build a power plant on the ethanol plant site.

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