Don’t Ignore Contribution of Distillers Grains

It's something that has been said over and over and, yet, it's worth repeating because so many people don't seem to get it. Distillers grains is an important part of the ethanol production and livestock feed equation.
By Mike Bryan | May 20, 2014

I know that I am preaching to the choir when I say this, but it is frustrating to see figures tossed about that ethanol will consume 5 billion bushels of corn in 2014. Distillers grains’ contribution seems to be continually ignored. It is a major factor that has to be part of the equation.

If the projections are correct and ethanol production uses 5 billion bushels of corn in 2014, distillers grains will account for approximately 1.2 billion bushels of that total. This is corn that otherwise would have likely gone into feeding cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals. It still does, it is simply fed to livestock in the form of a high-protein feed supplement. It reduces the overall consumption of grain because of its higher nutrient value.

This isn’t rocket science, but it almost always gets lost in the translation, either by intention or by simple research negligence. For example, the average beef cow consumes approximately 15 pounds of dry matter per day. Part of that dry matter is almost always corn. A feeding ratio of 25 to 30 percent distillers grains improves weight gain and reduces the amount of corn required to be fed to obtain the same effect.

As a result, rather than 5 billion bushels, the production of ethanol consumes only 3.8 billion bushels of corn annually. That’s 25 percent less saddled on the back of ethanol. The forecast for corn production in 2014 is around 13 billion bushels. This means that ethanol production will consume only 29.2 percent of the U.S. corn crop. Some have suggested that ethanol consumes as much as 40 percent. How ridiculous. 

The food vs. fuel argument is a dead horse. It’s not valid now and it never has been a valid argument against ethanol. There are so many things derived from a bushel of corn, some with great merit, some with marginal merit and perhaps some even detrimental to mankind. Ethanol clearly falls into the category of high merit.

The 21.2 percent of our burgeoning corn crop used in ethanol production pales when we look at the environmental, economic and energy security benefits that ethanol provides. To suggest that ethanol has driven up global food prices and is depriving people of food in Third-World countries is the argument of those who have long ago lost the argument and are now simply grasping at any straw they can to save face.

Ethanol has been one of America’s great success stories. Few industries have started from zero and contributed as much to the environment, rural economic development and our nation’s energy supply as ethanol. Whenever we see such exaggerated numbers thrown about, we need to call out those using the numbers and take them to task. An exaggeration left unchallenged becomes fact.

That’s the way I see it.

Author: Mike Bryan
Chairman, BBI International
mbryan@bbiinternational.com