Stakeholders exchange information at corn oil event

By Holly Jessen | March 23, 2012

DES MOINES—About 180 ethanol producers, animal feed companies, animal nutritionists and university researchers attended a half-day meeting entitled “How is oil extraction impacting DDGS value in swine” on March 21 in Des Moines, Iowa. Attendees also heard presentations concluding that antibiotic residue in distillers grains are not biologically active and the results of two mycotoxin surveys.

Rob Musser, director of technical sales and marketing for Nutriquest, which sponsored the event, presented information about the Mason City, Iowa-based company’s database of DDGS nutrient loadings from more than 130 U.S. ethanol plants. Referred to as Illuminate, the program helps ethanol plants target the right customer for their product and provides feed customers with better comfort levels for using more distillers grains or continuing to use the product when prices rise, Musser said.

Based on the corn oil percentage levels in the distillers grains in the Illuminate database, the company estimated the growth in corn oil extraction in the past year. The data showed that 20 percent of ethanol plants were extracting corn oil as of March 2011 and—as of March 2012—that percentage had grown to 40 percent. Musser estimated that 70 to 80 percent of ethanol plants will be extracting corn oil by the end of 2012. Still, he clarified that the Illuminate numbers were somewhat “fuzzy” due to the fact that various facilities extract different percentages of corn oil and some facilities may only be ramping up corn oil extraction levels.

Following this presentation a question from an audience member prompted some debate without coming to a conclusion. The question was whether corn oil content in the corn itself could be contributing to lower corn oil levels in distillers grains, in addition to corn oil extraction from DDGS. The theory was that there was possibly a trend of decreasing corn oil content in corn used for ethanol production, but that more information was needed to confirm that.

Gerald Shurson, a University of Minnesota swine nutrition and management professor, followed up by laying out the economics of corn oil extraction for ethanol producers. A 100 MMgy ethanol plant that spends $3 million to install corn oil extraction technology will then produce 20 million pounds of corn oil yearly. Assuming the company receives 45 cents per pound in revenue it can add $9 million to its bottom line in a year. “We may see even more oil extracted from distillers grains in the future,” he confirmed.

Shurson presented swine data about corn oil extracted distillers grains entitled “It’s not the fat, it’s the fiber,” along with co-researcher Brian Kerr, an animal scientist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Research shows that the oil content of distillers grains doesn’t do a good job of establishing a metabolizable energy content of the feed, Shurson said. Still, he’s had conversations with animal feeders that aren’t interested in hearing about factors such as metabolizable energy and instead, only want to know how much lower they can negotiate the price of distillers grains that has had corn oil extracted.

Kerr followed up by emphasizing the point that corn oil wasn’t the best predictor of metabolizable energy in distillers grains eaten by swine. In fact, the fiber content of low oil distillers grains showed greater variability than the fat content. “It’s not just the fat,” he said several times, adding that it would be nice if it was that easy, but that it wasn’t. “It’s more complicated than that. … A percentage unit reduction in crude fat does not accurately establish the change in [digestible energy] and [metabolizable energy.]”

The two researchers also discussed the importance of quality control in laboratory settings. Kerr pointed to two separate laboratory analysis of the same samples of distillers grains, which resulted in different values.

Following their presentation, a participant good naturedly pointed out that, for animal nutritionists, it absolutely is fat content that is the concern. It was also pointed out that there’s a need for more work in understanding fiber content and how to utilize fiber as an energy source. “There are a lot of question marks and I don’t think we are going to solve those today,” Shurson said. Finally, one attendee mused as to why it took so long to have a meeting that brought stakeholders together to discuss issues revolving around corn oil extraction and what would have happened if the meeting had occurred in the beginning, rather than three years later.