August 29, 2007


Wet distillers grains may cut costs for US cattle ranchers


The rising demand for corn to make renewable fuel might be hurting some dairy farmers and beef ranchers, but others are finding advantages in staying close to ethanol plants.


Converting corn into ethanol produces a by-product called distillers grains, which can be used as high-protein livestock feed. Most are dried so they can be shipped across the country and overseas, but cattle ranchers within 50 miles or so from an ethanol plant can save money by buying wet distillers grains.


Drying wet distillers grains involves separating the liquid from the mash, partially dehydrating that liquid into a syrup and adding it back into grain. That costs money, so plants can pass the savings and lower shipping charges to farmers and ranchers, said Don Endres, chairman and chief executive officer of US-based VeraSun Energy Corp.


Endres said dairy farms and feedlots are building or expanding around VeraSun's plants.


"They can buy feed more economically if they're located near an ethanol facility. You take the transportation out," Endres said.


Wet distillers grains are cheaper than dried distillers grains, but they also have a short shelf life. The grains will begin to grow mold within 5-7 days in the summer unless they are in bunkers or silo bags, said Ken Kalscheur, an associate professor at South Dakota State University.


Smaller operators who might not be able to use a truckload before the grains spoil can treat them with a moderate level of a preservative which can extend their shelf life for about a week, Kalscheur said.


Sharing is also an option. "If you can split a load with the neighbour down the road, that's a great way to do it," he added.


Dairy farmers typically use wet distillers grains for about 10 percent of the feed mixture, although some research has shown that it could be used for up to 20 percent, Kalscheur said.


Dairy feed contains many different components and cattle will sometimes sort through it. Adding wet distillers grains can help ensure consistency in an animal's diet by helping to bind the mix.


"With a wet product, it's somewhat like a glue, kind of sticks things together," Kalscheur said.


When ethanol plants turn corn into fuel, the process uses only the starch, which is about 70 percent of the kernel. The protein, fibre and oils left behind are concentrated into distillers grains.


A 56-pound bushel of corn produces about 2.8 gallons of ethanol and 17 pounds of distillers grains, according to the American Coalition of Ethanol.


Endres said a recent study found that ranchers' No. 1 reason for not using distillers grains is the product's lack of availability.


"The market works, so as we bring on additional supply of product, the livestock producers are stepping up and taking advantage of it, as we'd expect them to do," Endres said.


Video >

Follow Us