US ethanol plants reopen as record corn harvest boosts margins


By Christine Stebbins and Michael Hirtzer

CHICAGO, Nov 4 (Reuters) - U.S. ethanol plants that havebeen shut for as many as five years are now coming back onlineas a record U.S. harvest has pushed down corn prices andimproved profit margins for makers of the biofuel.

Agribusiness giant Cargill Inc on Monday said itrestarted a plant in Fort Dodge, Iowa, that the companypurchased in 2011 from corn processor Tate & Lyle.

The announcement came as Noble Group Ltd said itwill soon restart an Indiana ethanol plant that was shut for ayear while another facility that was idled for five years inOhio came back online last month.

U.S. farmers are gathering a corn crop expected to reach arecord 14 billion bushels. The big harvest is replenishingstockpiles diminished by 2012's blistering drought andpressuring benchmark Chicago Board of Trade corn futures to the lowest levels in three years.

Ethanol margins are the highest since late 2009 - the lastyear of a record corn harvest - as ethanol makers turn profitsbuying corn and then selling the biofuel as well as byproductssuch as distillers grains and corn oil.

Minneapolis-based Cargill, a top U.S. ethanol produceraccording to the Renewable Fuels Association, will eventuallyproduce 115 million gallons yearly at the Fort Dodge plant.

"When full production capacity is reached, the plant willconsume 150,000 bushels of corn a day and turn out fiveproducts, including dextrose, ethanol and SweetBran feed forcattle," Al Viaene, manager of Cargill's Fort Dodge plant, saidin a statement.

Cargill, with annual sales of $136.7 billion in the fiscalyear that ended May 31, also produces ethanol at plants in Blair, Nebraska, and Eddyville, Iowa.

Noble Group was revamping a plant in South Bend, Indiana,with an annual capacity of 100 million gallons that shouldrestart early in 2014. Liquidators purchased the facility atauction in January for $2.5 million and then sold it in July toNoble Americas, a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based Noble Group.

"They want to get going as fast as possible. They areplanning for the first quarter, certainly by the end of March,"said Chris Fielding, the director of business development forthe city of South Bend.

Noble Group did not return requests for comment.

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