The use of feed grain crops to produce ethanol for fuel has received a bad press. Some have gone as far as calling it a sin. In the US, there is much controversy over the processing of 100m tonnes of maize corn per year -- 40pc of their crop -- into ethanol.
However, this is not a straight food versus fuel issue. The ethanol manufacture process delivers significant co-products for use as animal feed. As whiskey distilling and beer brewing delivers distillers and brewers grains, so too does ethanol-for-fuel deliver high quality animal feed co-products.
The relevance of this is most pertinent just now because two huge wheat for ethanol plants are coming on stream in Britain. Material from these plants will help fill the cattle fodder gaps for the coming winter. In particular, the ethanol co-products will make a contribution to assuaging the demand for imported protein and soya bean meal.
Last week, Richard Keenan Ltd held a press conference for British and Irish farming journalists on the topic of feeding ethanol co-products. While the co-products of distilling analyse as high quality feeds, there can be an issue over inclusion rates.
Keenan chairman Richard Keenan is confident that its feeding machines and systems will allow for higher inclusion rates, thus delivering savings for dairy and beef farmers.
The two new British ethanol plants include the Ensus plant on Teeside, which is already operating, and the Vivergo plant near Hull, which is cranking up to production over the next couple of months.
Both plants are based in the grain growing region of the east of England. Each plant is geared to handle more than 1m tonnes of British grown feed wheat. Between them, the two plants are expected to put over 1m tonnes of extra animal feed per year onto the British and Irish markets. At the Keenan press conference, a spokesman for Vivergo said that the 2m tonnes of wheat feedstock for the ethanol plants would normally be exported (In most years Britain exports 3m tonnes of wheat).
The first co-products from the Ensus bioethanol plant are already on sale in Ireland. The Irish retail agent for Ensis, KW Forage Systems in Waterford, will also handle the products from the Vivergo plant. Trident Feeds in Kilkenny, a sister company to Trident in Britain, will wholesale the ethanol co-products to the Irish feed trade.
KW are selling Northern Gold, a moist feed of 36pc dry matter, 26pc protein and metabolisable energy level of 13.6 (ME), at about €140/t delivered. Another ethanol co-product wheat syrup, listed at 28pc dry matter, 40pc protein and 14.2 ME, is being delivered to Irish farmers at €85 to €90/t, depending on the distance from the east coast. Both products are on offer in bulk articulated lorry loads of about 28 tonnes. The syrup can only be stored in tanks. British farmers are being supplied with on-farm storage tanks.
The bulk of product from the Vivergo plant will be marketed as pelleted dry distillers grains under the brand DDGS. DDGS is listed as 92pc dry matter, 13.7ME and 32pc protein. This too can be used to replace imported soya bean and maize meal.
Generally, the costs of brewing and distilling co-products are highest during the winter when they can be immediately fed, but they fall in the summer as they have to be stored on farm.
Past experience suggests that the inclusion of distillers' grains at more than 10pc of the dairy cow diet can depress milk fat. However, Keenan spokesman Thork Moos suggested to the press conference that herd owners using Keenan feeders can lift the inclusion rates to 20pc without hitting the milk fat.
He based this recommendation on a small trial from Illinois State University in the US, and on records from farms (now in excess of 1,000) using the PACE computerised system on their Keenan feeder.
He suggested that the "little and often" intake pattern and the length of fibre in the feed wagon material facilitated the higher inclusion of the co-products.
Similarly, Mr Moos claimed that with beef farmers, the usual maximum inclusion guideline of 20pc for distillers' co-products could be raised to 37pc without negative effect if fed through the Keenan feeder.