Corn used in ethanol production will increase by more than one billion bushels during 2007-08 to reach over 3.15 billion bushels, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) chief economist Keith Collins.

That’s 46.5 percent more than the 2.15 billion estimated to be used during the current corn crop year.

Collins told the Senate Agriculture Committee earlier this month that his forecast for 2007-08 is based on current ethanol plant construction information. 

He went on to say that an additional 6.5 million acres of corn will be required this year to accommodate the increase in corn usage for ethanol and to provide corn for other users (feed, exports, food) at unchanged levels. Collins added that number was determined using the trend-line yield of 152 bushels per acre. 

The USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report suggests a harvested corn acreage this spring of over 77.5 million acres and a harvest of 11.8 billion bushels, compared to a corn crop of 10.5 billion bushels. 

Collins says that beyond 2007 steady increases in ethanol production will require even more acreage or higher corn yields per acre, or both. 

Although Collins indicated some acreage currently in USDA’s long-term Conservation Reserve Program could become available for corn production as contracts mature, he said environmental challenges regarding these acres could be an issue.