DG market grows as new uses are perfected, exports rise

By Craig A. Johnson | November 11, 2009
South Dakota State University food science graduate student, Sowmya Arra, has developed a process whereby distillers dried grains (DDGs) can be processed into a low-cost flour rich in fiber and protein. The ethanol coproduct has the potential to fight hunger by serving as a sustainable source of protein for developing countries.

Working in collaboration with mentors and advisers Padu Krishnan and Kurt Rosentrater, Arra's work earned her international recognition when she received first place in the graduate research poster competition at the Institute of Food Technologists Conference, held in Anaheim, Calif., in June. Arra was one of 50 graduate students presenting posters in the product development category at the conference, which drew researchers and technologists from more than 80 countries.

Arra had to create a process of heating, vacuum chamber treatment, grinding and sterilization resulting in a product more wholesome than flour. Post-processed DDGs closely resemble wheat flour, and could be used as a flour substitute, according to Arra.

"By making the ingredient as bland, color-neutral and nutrient-enriched as possible, we can offer a product that may have international feeding applications," Arra said. She is a native of Hyderabad, India, and hopes to see her food-grade DDGs marketed to Third World countries for low-cost bread products that could help fight world hunger.

After completing her advanced degree, Arra hopes to work in research and development for the food industry. She received her bachelor's degree in microbiology and genetics from Osmania University, Hyderabad, and is currently working toward her master's degree in food science at SDSU.

Arra's research, collaborated with the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, received funding support through efforts by Agricultural Research Service engineer Kurt Rosentrater. Additional funding was provided by the SDSU Agricultural Experiment Station, the South Dakota Wheat Commission and the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.

Research such as Arra's could help alleviate severe conditions in countries facing droughts such as the one experienced this year in China's major corn producing regions. The drought will result in fewer bushels of corn per acre harvested this year, causing corn prices to climb and a substantial increase in the need for distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) from the U.S., according to the U.S. Grains Council.

Members of the Grains Council recently completed their yearly tour of China's corn-growing regions, and determined that the drought will result in lowered yields per bushel in 2009. "The drought really affected parts of China's major corn producing regions, especially in western parts of Jilan and Liaoning provinces and eastern parts of Inner Mongolia province," Cary Sifferath, USGC's senior director in China said. USGC members evaluated 300 corn fields in northeastern provinces of China and estimated the national corn yield for 2009 to be approximately 79 bushels per acre, compared to 88.5 bushels per acre predicted by the Chinese government in 2008.

Sifferath said the Chinese government's cap on production acreage means an increase in corn acreage to up production levels would have to equal a decrease in acreage for another crop. China does not appear to plan to import corn and prices for its own corn have become very expensive, which leads to an increased market for U.S. DDGS, he said.

As a result, the USGC expects the U.S. to export up to 300,000 tons of DDGS to China this year18 times the amount exported to China in 2008. According to Sifferath, the substantial increase in exports to China has been experienced over a short amount of time and he expects increases to continue due to sustained high corn prices in China.