USDA report confirms value of distillers grains
By Kris Bevill | November 15, 2011

A recent USDA report echoes what ethanol producers have said for years: distillers grains are a valuable addition to the nation’s feed supply and can be used to reduce any impact of increased corn use for ethanol by replacing more than its share of corn or soymeal. The USDA Economic Research Service report, “Estimating the Substitution of Distillers’ Grains for Corn and Soybean Meal in the U.S. Feed Complex,” finds that, on average, one metric ton of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) can replace 1.22 metric tons of corn and soybean meal in the U.S. Because only the starch of the corn kernel is used for ethanol production, the remaining fat and fiber in DDGS are increased by a factor of three compared to unprocessed corn, the report states.

 “The value of the animal feed produced by the ethanol industry has long been misunderstood, understated and misrepresented,” said Geoff Cooper, vice president of research and analysis at the Renewable Fuels Association. “While some critics of the ethanol industry attempt to downplay the role of DDGS, the facts simply can’t be ignored.”

The report found that DDGS surpassed soybean meal to become the No. 2 feedstuff in the 2010-’11 crop year. Corn remained the most widely used animal feed. “While ethanol expansion raised demand for corn, DDGS from the dry-mill production process partially offsets the impact on the feed market,” the report’s authors state. “Consequently, the net effect in the domestic feed market of a bushel of corn being used for ethanol production is less than a bushel.”

The market for distillers grains is also expected to continue to grow, with beef cattle remaining the main consumers of the product, followed by dairy cattle, swine and poultry. “Some in industry or other researchers believe that consumption of DDGS by dairy cattle is nearing maximum use levels,” the report’s authors say. “We do not find such a constraint at this time.” The authors also dispute claims that smaller cattle, hog and poultry operations will not be able to accommodate truckloads of distillers grains, stating that those farm operators could devise creative solutions. 

—Kris Bevill