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Ethanol doubles corn's food production value

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 20, 2012

Saying ethanol has been demonized for too long, Orrie Swayze, a farmer from Wilmot, S.D., and past president of the S.D. Corn Growers Association, has sent a letter to the editor to a number media outlets offering a new perspective, which he summarizes as “Ethanol doubles corn’s food production.”

He argues in the letter that the ethanol coproduct, distillers grains, needs to be properly evaluated in how it fits into livestock feed values. “To date, few have considered that a bushel of corn produces ethanol, plus nearly 18 pounds of 28 percent protein distillers grains, or a bushel can produce 9 pounds of  20 percent (uncooked) protein pork or beef,” Swayze reasons. “Compared to meat production, arithmetic reveals that ethanol doubles corn’s food production and nearly triples corn’s protein production.”

“Critics will argue that meat can be used for direct human consumption where distillers’ grains cannot,” Swayze continues. He argues the ethanol industry is a major supplier of protein, producing the protein equivalent of nearly half of the entire U.S. soybean crop. That makes “soy’s high-protein flour, meat and milk substitutes more available and at lower cost,” he said. “This direct human consumption of plant protein rich foods is by far the lowest-cost pathway to deliver proteins to diets,” he writes, adding that distillers proteins are beginning to enter that market also.

“Importantly, distillers and soy proteins are easily transported to impoverished populations,” Swayze says, pointing out that starches are typically more available, while protein is expensive and in short supply. “It should surprise no one that the food chain is critically short protein,” he says, “as evidenced, also, by protein supplement prices that are approximately double the price of starch-based grains.”

Swayze said that to date, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader has run his letter. He was expecting some response in the comment section, he added, “But there wasn’t a single comment.” He figured the protein based on 9 percent protein corn and 34.5 percent protein beans, using the numbers for 2011.