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Feature   | Summer 2009

Going with the grains

Livestock diet made with leftovers

Breakfast is the same every day at Klein's—wet distillers grains, mixed with syrup (condensed distillers solubles). The lunch menu is no different. Ditto for dinner.

farmer with pigs
Researchers study the effect of DDGS on animal growth and carcass quality at Purdue's Animal Sciences Research and Education Center. Animal scientist Scott Radcliffe, who is conducting research with swine, says that, in general, ruminants can consume feeds with higher concentrations of DDGS than non-ruminants.

The proprietor, Purdue University agricultural engineer Klein Ileleji, doesn't worry that patrons will tire of the fare. They'll moo, squeal and crow no matter what's set in front of them.

In his laboratory on the West Lafayette campus, Ileleji and his student assistants whip up hearty portions of dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS). While they don't serve the DDGS to hungry diners themselves, they analyze the entrée for those who do.

"My lab is like a kitchen, but you probably don't want to eat what we're preparing," Ileleji says.

No, but cattle, swine and poultry will gobble it up. DDGS is a granular substance used in livestock rations. The feed ingredient is produced from the material left over when ethanol plants make the corn-based fuel. DDGS contains the corn kernel's fiber, protein, oil and germ—everything but the starch, or the very little that is left after fermentation.

About 17 pounds of DDGS are produced for every bushel of corn processed into ethanol. In the 2007-08 marketing year alone, ethanol plants in the United States produced approximately 26 million tons of distillers grains.

Feed-ing frenzy
Although DDGS is as old as ethanol itself, the recent growth of the ethanol industry and its effect on corn markets have focused more attention on the feed ingredient. Ethanol companies are investigating their DDGS production and marketing practices as they attempt to squeeze every ounce of profit from their manufacturing operations. Livestock farmers, on the other hand, are considering DDGS' nutritional and cost benefits.

The heightened interest in distillers grains brings with it a plethora of questions and challenges. Purdue Agriculture is working to address them, from plant-level production processes to marketing to transporting the substance to proper livestock feeding levels. Leading the push is Purdue's Integrated Corn Ethanol Co-Products Rapid Response Team. The team was created in 2006 to provide a quick response to the need for research-based information related to the increasing production of DDGS from the corn ethanol industry. The team is made up of specialists in Purdue's departments of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Agricultural Communication, Agricultural Economics, Agronomy, Animal Sciences, and Botany and Plant Pathology.

For its contributions to renewable energy sectors, the team received the 2009 Purdue Agriculture Team Award, which honors achievements of interdisciplinary research collaborations. "We've had more than 40 faculty and staff involved in research and Extension projects," says Ileleji, a team leader. "Our research efforts led us to a collaboration with The Andersons ethanol plant in Indiana to study DDGS from production to end use. We've also studied the environmental consequences of manure from DDGS-fed livestock."

Research findings have been presented in Extension publications and at public meetings, including the Integrated Corn Ethanol Co-products Conference. The November 2007 event at Purdue's Beck Agricultural Center drew nearly 200 ethanol and agricultural industry leaders from the Midwest and as far away as California. Around half participated online.

Informed opinion
Steve Markham, senior trader for distillers grains marketing with Minnesota-based CHS Inc., says the conference was the most informative DDGS event that he's attended in his 28-year career. CHS is the nation's largest DDGS marketer, representing more than 30 ethanol plants in the United States.

"The conference was very well done and very positive," Markham says. "I was especially impressed with the electron microscope slides that dealt with how humidity affects DDGS handling. We've always known this was a problem, and that presentation showed it to be true."

Markham says he's discussed Purdue DDGS research with clients, both here and abroad. "Information like that presented at the conference helps me educate my potential customers in Indiana and internationally," he says. "It's all part of educating the customer base."


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