In 1998, one million metric tons of distillers grains were produced in the United States. Thanks to corn ethanol, about 40 million tons are produced today.
“Back then, we had debate about what to do with all those distillers grains. We thought there’d be too much because of ethanol,” said Charlie Staff, executive director and CEO of the Distillers Grains and Technology Council. “Turned out, that wasn’t a problem.”
Not only has the amount of distillers grains produced increased, they’re also worth five times what they were in 1998.
Distillers grains are a high quality, high energy and highly digestible feed stock that provides excellent nutritional value at a reduced cost for beef, dairy, poultry and swine.
Most ethanol plants in the United States use starch from corn to produce ethanol. The remainder of the corn kernel is used to produce a variety of wet and dried distillers grains. In dry-grind ethanol production, each bushel of corn produces about 11.8 liters of ethanol and 7.7 kg of distillers grains.
The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) was one of the sponsors for this year’s Distillers Grains Symposium, held May 15-16 in the Twin Cities. The symposium featured speakers and presentations related to the impact of last year’s drought on corn kernel composition, weather models and their estimated impact on future corn yields and prices, the corn oil market, exporting issues and managing risk in today’s farming landscape.
Distillers grains started with the bourbon industry and grew as the use of corn ethanol expanded. About 98 percent of distillers grains in North America comes from ethanol plants. The other 2 percent comes from the alcohol beverage industry.
About 80 percent of the distillers grains in North America are fed to dairy and beef cattle. The other 20 percent goes to swine and poultry. The United States exports more than 10 million tons of distillers grains to over 50 counties annually.
“Some distillers grains production has slowed recently because ethanol production is over capacity,” Staff said. “People are using less gasoline.”
Ethanol production wasn’t the only issue listed by Staff. Other issues distillers grains face in the future include:
- Domestic promotion. Distiller’s grains are currently promoted more internationally than domestically.
- Government regulations. More are coming that will likely impact distillers grains.
- Corn oil removal. Some ethanol plants remove more oil from a kernel of corn than others.
- Corn production and pricing. A consistent and quality corn crop is necessary for a strong distillers grains market.
The Distillers Grains and Technology Council has been around since 1945 and has held a symposium every year. Over 250 people attended this year’s symposium.