Ethanol production is one of the largest feed producing segments in the United States. And a new analysis from the Renewable Fuels Association shows that the ethanol industry is providing increasing volumes of highly nutritious livestock feed for domestic and international markets. According to the analysis that is entitled "Fueling a Nation; Feeding the World," too often, discussions of the ethanol industry's impact on global grain use forget to recognize the fact that the grain ethanol process results in renewable fuel and highly nutritious animal feed.
In modern ethanol production processes, one-third of every bushel of corn used is returned to the livestock feed market. Ethanol production requires only the starch portion of a corn kernel. The remaining protein, fat, fiber, and other nutrients are returned to livestock feeders. America's ethanol producers supplied nearly 35 million metric tons of livestock feed in the 2009/2010 marketing year. By volume, such production is greater than the total amount of grain consumed by all of the beef cattle in U.S. feedlots.
American feed production by ethanol plants is also a growing portion of global livestock diets. Nearly 25%, or 9 million metric tons, of the distillers grains produced in 2010 was exported, with the leading recipients being China, Mexico, and Canada. For the current 2010/2011 marketing year, feed production from the ethanol industry is projected at 39 million metric tons. That's enough livestock feed to produce 50 billion quarter-pound hamburgers - seven patties for each person on the planet.
Feed co-products represent an increasingly important share of profit opportunities for ethanol producers. The estimated market value of feed co-products from ethanol production in 2009/10 was $3.8 billion. An estimated additional $1 billion was realized through sales of corn oil, a high value co-product of the wet mill ethanol process and some dry milling processes.