Q&A: Harold Tilstra, Land O' Lakes Farmland Feed

Variability in digestible lysine levels in DDGS effects the value of swine feed products
By | October 01, 2002
EPM: As Swine Feed Sales Manager for Land O' Lakes Farmland Feed's western trade area, what are your responsibilities? On a broader scale, what is the scope of your work as a sales professional for this major feed marketer?

Tilstra: Land O'Lakes Farmland Feed is a national farmer-owned agricultural cooperative serving nearly 1,000,000 producers and their families through 2,800 community cooperatives throughout the United States and Canada.

My responsibilities fall into two areas: (1.) I am supervisor for a group of sales professionals we call Swine Sales Consultants. They are among our most highly trained swine sales/service people and provide services to local cooperatives that are in Minnesota, northwest Iowa, South and North Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas; (2.) my other work area is to help with swine feed sales and swine production support services however I can across the western trade area of our cooperative system.
The work is very interesting and professionally challenging. I sincerely appreciate the opportunities I have with this position.

EPM: You were the first chairman of Agri-Energy, LLC, in Luverne, Minn. Are you still involved with that facility? In what capacity?

Tilstra: Our family's farming operation is one of the members of Cornerstone Cooperative (Cornerstone is majority owner of Agri-Energy, LLC). I was on the original board of directors of Cornerstone Cooperative and served on that board until I accepted my current position with Land O' Lakes Feed. Being chairman during the development and construction of the ethanol plant was a great experience. We often see the ethanol production process reduced to one or two slides during a presentation. The reality is that the process is incredibly complex.

EPM: You also hold a director's seat on the United States Grain Council. Is your role with the U.S. Grains Council related to distillers grains?

Tilstra: Agri-Energy, LLC, is one of the Minnesota ethanol plants that got involved in funding research and promotion of dried distillers grains with solubles. As part of that effort, nine of the Minnesota ethanol plants became members of the United States Grain Council (USGC). Each member of the USGC has one voting director in that organization. I currently serve as Agri-Energy's director. The USGC has now become very active in helping position DDGS in the world marketplace. Trade teams have traveled the Pacific rim, Central America, and most recently Europe. I was able to be a part of the recent USGC DDGS market assessment team trip to Europe.

EPM: As a third generation farmer, how do you characterize the importance of your first-hand farming/livestock experience in the work you are a part of in the feed and ethanol industries today? By the way, do you still farm and/or raise livestock?

Tilstra: I no longer raise livestock but am still involved with my father in corn/soybean production. As in any area, experience is a great teacher. I have a real appreciation for the day-to-day realities of making a crop and livestock production system work. Beef, stockcow, and farrow-to-finish swine production along with years of veterinary practice has given me a solid background in livestock production.

I gained a real appreciation of cooperative ideals while we were working through the mechanics and logistics of forming Cornerstone Cooperative. I became, and remain convinced, that cooperative involvement is the best hope of long term family-based farming survival. My work with Land O' Lakes Farmland Feed gives me the opportunity to help live out that strong belief.

EPM: Getting to the topic at hand, how has the new generation of "golden DDGS" affected the viability of ethanol distillers grains as a feedstock that can be easily integrated into swine diets?

Tilstra: I need to preface my response by saying that all the information I'm discussing refers to DDGS from plants that are using 100 percent corn as their feed-stock. Sorguhm DDGS also is used successfully in swine diets. Research at the University of Minnesota demonstrated that DDGS from the dry-mill ethanol plants in Minnesota had higher levels of digestible lysine and higher levels of available phosphorus than had previously been understood to be the case. Swine diets are formulated based on levels of nutrients that are biologically available. Slight differences in levels of digestible lysine in an ingredient have tremendous effect on its economic value in the formulation process. For example, the following information compares traditional values to analysis values for "golden" DDGS:

In a hog finisher diet that included 10 percent DDGS, the "golden" DDGS would have a value of about $84 per ton as compared to about $67 per ton for the traditional product. (Comparison based on corn @ $1.93/bu, soybean meal @ $163.50/ton, L-lysine @ $70/cwt., and diets contained no added fat.)

At Land O' Lakes Farmland Feed we are using this new research information along with our proprietary research to recommend that swine producers use "golden" DDGS when economics make it reasonable to do so. Today's ethanol plants are capable of producing DDGS that has the higher levels of digestible lysine and available phosphorus useful in swine nutrition. Swine diets that include DDGS can be part of a total nutrient management plan that reduces excreted nitrogen and phosphorus in the hog manure. This becomes a second way that ethanol production has a positive contribution to the environment. Ethanol fuel helps with cleaner air and use of DDGS in swine diets can help reduce phosphorus levels in the swine manure applied to the land.

EPM: When a swine producer tells you that it is not economically feasible to use DDGS in swine diets, what is your response?

Tilstra: The producer needs to look at the numbers. We are currently (October 24, 2002) seeing from a $1.00 to $2.00 per ton advantage for hog finishing diets containing 10 percent DDGS. We use a simple spreadsheet to continuously monitor relative values of the primary ingredients used.

EPM: Regarding swine diets specifically, briefly explain the nutritional and physical requirements that are desired; basically, what are you looking for in a DDGS product?

For corn DDGS to be used in swine diets we recommend selecting product that has a golden color and a pleasant, cereal odor. Darker color hues with slight burnt odor indicate a potential for lower lysine digestibility in swine. The supplier should provide information that shows the following minimum analysis:

Crude protein: minimum of 26.5%
Moisture: maximum of 12.0%
Crude Fat: minimum of 10.0%
Crude Fiber: maximum of 7.5%

The supplier should also provide some assurance of low probability of mycotoxin contamination. The dry-mill process does not necessarily destroy mycotoxins that may occur on the grain coming to the ethanol plant. Incidence of mycotoxicosis from feeding DDGS has been extremely low, however, the possibility of contamination is one of the factors that has to be considered when deciding on total diet inclusion levels of DDGS.

EPM: Depending on who you talk to, inclusion rates vary from five percent to 50 percent of the swine's total diet. What's your professional opinion on inclusion rates for both nursery and grow-finish pig diets?

Tilstra: There are several factors to consider when deciding how much DDGS to add to swine rations. DDGS varies in nutrient analysis and nutrient bio-availability between and within ethanol plants. Levels over 20 percent in finishing feed can contribute to negative carcass characteristics. Levels of 10 percent are often observed (pork producer comments) to have a positive gut-health benefit. Mycotoxins may still be present. At current markets, using DDGS lowers feed cost. The list goes on, some positive, some negative. Considering all the factors, our Land O' Lakes Farmland Feed swine nutritionists recommend the following DDGS inclusion levels (expressed as a percentage of the total ration) when adding DDGS is demonstrated to be economically beneficial:

Nursery: 5% max.
Grow-Finish: 10% max.
Sow Gestation: 20% max.
Sow Lactation: 5% max.

EPM: Is there a reduction in odor on the farm as a result of DDGS use in pig diets?

Tilstra: Research has demonstrated that there are no measurable differences in ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, or odor emissions as compared to traditional corn/soy diets. I have heard many producers comment that the barns smell different when they are feeding DDGS. I think they are noticing the smell of the feed containing DDGS.

EPM: What are the potential drawbacks of integrating DDGS into swine diets? Recognized challenges, etc.?

Tilstra: When used as we recommend, there are very few drawbacks. The challenges include product quality and variation, mycotoxins, and securing longer term, quantity pricing agreements. The growing ethanol industry is doing a good job working with us to help our pork producers get good quality DDGS in sufficient quantity.

EPM: On our side (the ethanol producer side), what does the swine and ruminant market represent to the vitality of future business - to your best understanding?

Ruminants have been the primary users of DDGS. The United States 100 million head per year hog industry represents a potential 3.5 million ton DDGS market if all the swine diets included 10 percent DDGS. If I understand the numbers correctly, that would take all of the DDGS from about 900 million gallons of ethanol production. For 2002, over one fourth of the total United States DDGS production is being exported. Poultry and swine use is increasing rapidly enough to keep pace with current increases in DDGS production. The new energy bill could result in DDGS national production levels growing from the current three million to possibly nine million metric tons annually. Domestic livestock use and exports are the "main events" for providing markets for DDGS.

EPM: What is the bottom line with swine producers? Why will they buy our product in the years ahead?

Tilstra: The short answer is: pork producers will buy quality feed ingredients that help reduce their cost of production and/or increase their productivity. The expansion of the ethanol industry is producing the quantity and quality of DDGS that can be a part of hog diets. Land O' Lakes Feed is providing feed products and technical service to help the pork producers we work with realize the full benefit of using DDGS in their swine diets. At Land O' Lakes Feed we are convinced enough of the role of DDGS in animal diets that we have employees in the ingredients division dedicated full-time to DDGS sales. Jim Jolly (National Manager Distillers Grains, Land O' Lakes Feed Ingredients) and his staff, help ingredient purchasers at our local and regional feed mills secure quality DDGS for use in swine and other species diets.

For additional information on using DDGS in swine diets:

Dr. Harold Tilstra
Swine Sales Manager
Land O' Lakes Feed

Dr. Randy Walker
Technical Service Manager
Land O' Lakes Feed

Dr. Kevin Herkelman
Swine Technical Service
Land O' Lakes Feed
800-851-8810 n