Distillers Grains Set Export Record

The U.S. ethanol industry exported 5.64 million metric tons (mmt) of distillers grains worth nearly $1 billion in 2009, shattering the previous record set in 2008, according to data released last week by the Foreign Agriculture Service. Exports in 2009 were 24% above 2008 levels and more than five times higher than the amount of distillers grains exported just five years ago.

Distillers grains are the livestock feed co-product of ethanol production from grain. In a typical dry mill ethanol biorefinery, one-third of every bushel of corn entering the facility is returned to the market in the form of high protein, nutrient rich livestock feed. Only the starch portion of the corn kernel is converted to fuel, while the remaining protein, fat and other nutrients remain intact in the co-product.

“Distillers grains are a vitally important co-product of U.S ethanol production from grain,” says Renewable Fuels Association vice president of research and analysis Geoff Cooper. “The increasing availability of distillers grains is providing livestock and poultry feeders around the world with a feed source that can partially displace the need for corn, soybean meal, and other ingredients in feed rations.”

Cooper said distillers grains also play an important role in dispelling both the food vs. fuel myth and the questionable notion that increased U.S. ethanol production is causing international land use change.

The amount of distillers grains exported in 2009 is equivalent to the feed value of 5.4 mmt (212 million bushels) of whole corn and 1.6 mmt of soybean meal, according to displacement ratios developed by Argonne National Laboratory. Assuming world average yield rates, 2009 distillers grains exports eliminated the need for nearly 5 million acres of corn and soybeans internationally.

Total U.S. distillers grains production in 2009 was approximately 30.5 mmt, meaning exports accounted for more than 18 percent of total use. Notably, 2009 distillers grains export levels are equivalent to the total amount of distillers grains produced and used in 2003.

Top export markets for distillers grains in 2009:

  • For the fourth straight year, Mexico registered as the top market for U.S. distillers grains exports. Nearly 1.5 mmt, or 27 percent of total exports, were shipped to Mexico in 2009. Mexico imported 23 percent more distillers grains in 2009 than in 2008.
  • Canada again ranked as the second largest export market for U.S. distillers grains, receiving nearly 804,000 metric tons of U.S. product.
  • After importing virtually no distillers grains in 2008, China emerged as the third largest market for U.S. distillers grains exports in 2009 with 542,000 metric tons. China is seen as the largest potential growth market for distiller grains exports.
  • Turkey and Thailand ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, as top destinations for U.S. distillers grains exports in 2009.

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