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A Variable Cost Function for Corn Ethanol Plants in the Midwest

Author

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  • Juan P. Sesmero
  • Richard K. Perrin
  • Lilyan E. Fulginiti

Abstract

type="main"> This study estimates a variable cost function for corn ethanol plants, using data from a unique survey of Midwest plants. The objective is to better understand the effect of prices and scale of production on Marshallian shutdown price, input choice, and by-product choice. We estimate a novel specification of a cost function capable of accommodating two distinctive features of ethanol plants’ technology: (1) the production process results in by-products that can be sold in different forms in response to price signals, and (2) decisions on the mix of by-products may be subject to constraints, such as thin livestock markets or imperfect price foresight. This cost function is estimated by nonlinear seemingly unrelated regression with correlated random effects. Constant returns to variable inputs, homotheticity, and proportionality of by-products to ethanol production, assumptions held in previous studies, are strongly rejected by our analysis. Increases in ethanol production require less than proportional increases in corn and other variable inputs when the increases are achieved through increased capacity utilization as opposed to capacity expansion. Moreover, the reduction in input requirements per gallon, reduces both cost and greenhouse gas emissions per gallon. Constraints in by-product marketing decisions seem to slightly increase Marshallian shutdown price. Dans la présente étude, nous estimons une fonction de coût variable à l'aide des données tirées d'une enquête réalisée auprès des usines de production d’éthanol de maïs dans le Midwest. L'objectif de notre étude vise à mieux comprendre l'effet des prix et de l’échelle de production sur le seuil de rentabilité selon Marshall, le choix des intrants et le choix des sous-produits. Nous estimons une fonction de coût spécifiée pour tenir compte de deux éléments distinctifs de la technologie des usines de production d’éthanol : 1) le processus de production génère des sous-produits qui peuvent être vendus sous diverses formes en réaction aux signaux de prix; 2) les décisions concernant l’éventail de sous-produits peuvent être confrontées à des contraintes telles que des marchés du bétail restreints ou des prévisions imparfaites concernant les prix. Cette fonction de coût est estimée à l'aide d'une régression non linéaire sans corrélation apparente avec effets aléatoires corrélés. Certaines hypothèses émises dans des études antérieures, telles que les rendements constants des intrants variables, l'homothéticité et la proportionnalité des sous-produits de la production d’éthanol, sont nettement rejetées par notre étude. L'augmentation de la production d’éthanol nécessite des augmentations inférieures aux augmentations proportionnelles de maïs et autres intrants variables lorsque l'augmentation découle d'un accroissement de la capacité de production comparativement à une expansion de capacité. De plus, la diminution des intrants nécessaires à la production d'un gallon d’éthanol réduit à la fois le coût et les émissions de gaz à effet de serre par gallon. Les contraintes auxquelles sont confrontées les décisions de commercialisation des sous-produits semblent augmenter légèrement le seuil de rentabilité selon Marshall.

Suggested Citation

  • Juan P. Sesmero & Richard K. Perrin & Lilyan E. Fulginiti, 2016. "A Variable Cost Function for Corn Ethanol Plants in the Midwest," Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie, Canadian Agricultural Economics Society/Societe canadienne d'agroeconomie, vol. 64(3), pages 565-587, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:canjag:v:64:y:2016:i:3:p:565-587
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ani L. Katchova & Ana Claudia Sant’Anna, 2019. "Impact of Ethanol Plant Location on Corn Revenues for U.S. Farmers," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(22), pages 1-13, November.
    2. Jinho Jung & Juan Sesmero & Ralph Siebert, 2020. "Spatial Differentiation and Market Power in Input Procurement: Evidence from a Structural Model of the Corn Market," CESifo Working Paper Series 8088, CESifo.
    3. Yanbing Wang & Michael S. Delgado & Juan Sesmero & Benjamin M. Gramig, 2020. "Market Structure and the Local Effects of Ethanol Expansion on Land Allocation: A Spatially Explicit Analysis," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 102(5), pages 1598-1622, October.

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