“Renewable energy” (aka ethanol) and the beef with the livestock industry

In doing research for my job the other day, I came across the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s 2010 Policy Issues. Their top five issues for 2010 are:

  1. Death Tax
    1. NCBA supports a dual-track policy to: 1) increase the exemption level and decrease the rate of taxation; and 2) provide an overall exemption for agriculture.
  2. Antibiotics
    1. Cattle producers support the responsible and judicious use of antibiotics as an important tool to prevent, control and treat disease in cattle.
  3. Food Safety
    1. Cattle producers’ top priority is to produce the safest and highest quality beef in the world.
  4. Government Intrusion in the Marketplace
    1. Cattle producers, like other businesses, support free-market principles in the buying and selling of their products.
  5. Environment
    1. Cattle producers take pride in serving as good stewards of the land, while producing a safe, affordable and abundant food supply to feed the world’s growing population.

Overall, I agree with these issues! As a member of NCBA myself, I’m glad they are working on issues as they do affect all cattle producers.

Something else that affects all cattle producers is the future of renewable energy and besides NCBA’s 2010 top-five policy issues, they have a list of “Fact Sheets” on issues that they generally support or oppose. One of those being renewable energy. I find the handout about NCBA’s position on renewable energy to be “fluffy”.

They boldly state that “NCBA Supports Renewable Energy in America.” This is where I say, “Great!”
But reading further, they state their concern over higher blends of ethanol, the high price of corn that ethanol has created and the fact that it is going to take more acres of corn (that we don’t have) to grow enough corn for livestock feed and ethanol production. Their concerns are valid, but they also fail to mention several facts on the increase of the price of corn besides ethanol, and the fact that farmers are utilizing more technology to grow more feed on less land than ever before!

However, the biggest ERROR that comes out of this information is that one thing was left out – the corn co-product made from ethanol production: distillers grains. Not once was this alternative feed source mentioned. Why? Extensive research by Iowa State, Nebraska and Kansas State show that distillers grains have an apparent energy value equal to corn grain when fed to finishing cattle at levels ranging from 10% to 20% of total ration dry matter. DDGS also is palatable and readily consumed by cattle. Feeding DDGS does not change quality or yield grades of carcasses. More here.

Distillers grains are being fed all over the country and we even have enough to export overseas. Cattle feeders benefit not only from its nutrient value for cattle, but it is a cheaper feed source, especially during summer months. This oversight needs to be corrected because it is a piece of the puzzle when it comes to the corn-livestock-ethanol triangle.

I could also go off on the fact that this information “Fact Sheet” as it is described, is titled “Renewable Energy” and it doesn’t even mention other forms of renewable energy: wind energy, water energy, soy biodiesel, algae ethanol production, etc., but I’ll save it for another time. In the corn industry, all of these forms of renewable energy are our friends as we know ethanol is not the silver bullet – but it is one part of the solution to our dependence on foreign oil and meeting the demands of a “green revolution”. 

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