While Jim Hanson is upbeat about EasiFlo's benefits, he says there are still unanswered questions. "How does the product perform in humid conditions? Does encapsulation affect the product's shelf life? It's those kinds of questions we don't have answers to yet."
Such answers are forthcoming, says Wedegaertner. Studies at Penn State and the University of Wisconsin are testing the durability of the coating; potential shelf life of the seed; and reaction to humid conditions. "So far that research looks better than expected," he states. "The coating seems to be very durable, and seems to have an adequate shelf life. It doesn't take up moisture any differently than fuzzy cottonseed." Final results of these studies are expected by the end of the year.
Research on the product's nutritional properties also indicates no apparent nutritional differences between the coated and fuzzy seed. In fact, the studies showed a slight increase in dry matter intake and milk production in dairy cows consuming the EasiFlo. Follow-up studies will take a closer look at these areas.
A harder question to answer concerns the cost of commercial production. "I don't think there will be a problem with the product itself being accepted," Hanson says. "The biggest challenge will be the cost of manufacturing the product, and the premium required in the marketplace to offset that cost." While he foresees Cenex/Land O'Lakes mills using EasiFlo in the future, he says it will depend on the premium the marketplace demands. "Obviously, in anything you do there are cost/benefit ratios that must be weighed."
"As dairies get bigger and bigger, it's harder for mills to justify their existence ...The EasiFlo process brings another commodity back under the feed mill's control, which will help in the long run." Tom Wedegaertner, Cotton Inc.
Cotton Inc. has signed its first commercial licensing agreement with Commonwealth Gin in Windsor, VA. While the product won't be commercially available until March of 1998, Wedegaertner anticipates EasiFlo will sell at a $30 to $50/ton premium to fuzzy cottonseed.
But the benefits will help offset those cost concerns, says Wedegaertner. EasiFlo's increased bulk density (27 to 28 pounds of Easiflo fits into the same space as 22 to 23 pounds/cubic foot of untreated seed) and the ability to use hopper-bottom equipment should reduce shipping costs. Reduced equipment and labor at the mill should further offset the higher price per ton. Wedegaertner estimates the final premium delivered at a Midwest mill will be roughly $20 to $40/ton.