One-third of an ethanol plant's output is a high-value livestock feed known as distillers grains.
With a robust ethanol industry in Nebraska, it makes sense to have a strong, growing livestock sector to take advantage of it, adding more value to the production chain and the state's economy as a whole, says Randy Klein of the Nebraska Corn Board.
"Many communities in Nebraska want an ethanol plant for the jobs and economic vitality it brings, but livestock producers, particularly cattle producers, see the plant as another source for feed," says Klein, who is the board's director of market development.
In fact, distillers grains are a versatile feed ingredient that can lower the cost of production.
"Distillers grains have outstanding nutritional properties for cattle and can be mixed into normal rations, combined with lower-cost forages to make a great feed or even simply dumped onto cornstalk stubble for foraging cattle," he says. "In each case, cattle performance improves and costs go down."
Nebraska has always been a great cattle producing state simply because of the variety of high-quality feeds that are locally produced. The advent of distillers grains amplifies that, he says, and has helped expand the cattle industry in the state. "Nebraska is fortunate in that we don't have to ship feed ingredients hundreds of miles via railcars. This lowers feed costs, and the improved performance by feeding distillers grains adds to that."
Tom Hansen of North Platte, a cattle producer and state senator, says that livestock production is the economic engine that drives Nebraska's economy and is helping make ethanol production even more valuable to the state.
"There are not enough cars in Nebraska to use all the ethanol we make here, but we can sure feed all the distillers grains," says Hansen, who is also a past president of Nebraska Cattlemen. "By growing the state's livestock industry in an environmentally responsible way we not only support the ethanol industry by feeding distillers grains, but we multiply those economic benefits many times from one end of Nebraska to the other. It's an incredible benefit to the state."
Studies show that livestock production in Nebraska has an annual economic impact of more than $7.8 billion and that per capita personal income in Nebraska's top livestock counties grew nearly 10% more than other rural counties between 1996 and 2005.
"With numbers like that, it not only makes sense to support and grow the livestock industry, but support and grow the ethanol industry, too," according to Klein. "Converting corn to ethanol adds a lot of value to that corn, and then feeding distillers grains to cattle adds even more value. Nebraska is uniquely and perfectly positioned to take advantage of this combination."