The nutritional value of distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) products is likely to vary within the ethanol industry in the future. However, DDGS products from individual plants will vary less as they become more defined, according to speakers at the Allen D. Leman Swine Conference in St. Paul, Minn.

Products from individual plants will have different nutritional specifications, and livestock producers “will have better information on what is in them, so they can better optimize their nutrients,” say Dr. Harold Tilstra, national co-products technical support, for Land O’ Lakes Purina Feed LLC.

Opposite of soybean meal

The reason for the growing plant-to-plant spread in DDGS nutritional profiles is that companies will use different ethanol production systems that result in variance among DDGS products. Tilstra described the difference between soybean meal and DDGS as being similar to the difference between fluid milk and cars.

As a result of the different DDGS products, it will be important for producers to buy from reputable companies, Tilstra stated. He thinks that companies will be accurate in saying what’s in their DDGS products “because their reputations will be on the line.”

Tilstra said that neither the way soybean meal has developed nor DDGS products are developing is good or bad, just different. He said the use of DDGS by pig producers has increased dramatically, and will continue to because it’s an economical alternative.

There are several reasons why plant to plant variability in DDGS nutritional values exists among ethanol plants and is increasing, added Dr. Gerry Shurson, a University of Minnesota animal scientist. First, ethanol plants use different design technologies or different engineering, which causes changes in the process. Second, different types of driers are used that may have an influence on drying temperature or time.

“And probably the biggest factor (of nutritional variability) is the ratio or proportion of the grains fraction and the syrup or solubles fraction that are blended together to make the DDGS. Some ethanol plants blend 75% grains and 25% solubles. Other plants may add 100% of solubles back.”

“What ethanol plants are now starting to do with the goal of maximizing ethanol yield, Shurson said. “Is that instead of fermenting the whole corn kernel, like they’ve been doing, they are starting to fractionate. They’re pulling the bran off, pulling the germ out to concentrate the starch and to improve their ethanol yield.”

New product profiles

“When doing so at front end of pre-fermentation, now you have a whole bunch of other fractions that have different nutrient profiles that need to go into animal feeds as well and you also alter what the coming DDGS is going to look like coming out of the back end. It’s going to be lower in fat, lower in fiber, and higher in protein.”

“And so these fractionation technologies that many ethanol plants are beginning to implement are changing the value of these corn coproducts including what we think of as DDGS,” Shurson stated.

Ethanol production

More DDGS will become available as ethanol production increases. Tilstra estimates that ethanol production in the U.S. will increase from about 10 billion gallons in 2009 to 15 billion gallons in 2015. Production will level off at the 2015 level, he predicts.

Corn used in ethanol production is presently about 3.8 billion bushels in the U.S. and he sees that leveling off to about 5 billion bushels by 2015.

Graph: Ethanol production estimates 

Despite increased volumes of ethanol, Tilstra estimated U.S. corn prices will average $4.08/bu. in the 2008-2009 marketing year and lower, $3.05-$3.65 in the 2009-2010 marketing year. He expects corn yields to increase dramatically in the years ahead.

“Widespread interest in ethanol is a strong indicator that ethanol production will be in place for some time,” Tilstra said. He added that roughly one third of corn used for ethanol comes back into the industry as distillers grains products. The majority of DDGS is used for beef and dairy at present.

He said that 10% of DDGS is exported, but that may increase as “I’m fairly optimistic on exports.”