The U.S. ethanol industry produces a tremendous amount of animal feed.  In 2016, ethanol plants churned out more feed than the entire U.S. soybean crushing industry, one of the largest segments of the global feed market.  One-third of every bushel of grain that enters the ethanol process is enhanced and returned to the feed market, most often in the form of distillers grains, corn gluten feed and corn gluten meal.  Only the starch portion of the grain is made into ethanol; the remaining protein, fat and fiber pass through the process.  These nutrient-dense co-products are fed to livestock, poultry and fish around the world.

In 2016, ethanol biorefineries produced a new record of nearly 42 million metric tons of feed. Dry mill ethanol plants also extracted roughly 2.9 billion pounds of corn distillers oil, a high value co-product used as a feed ingredient or feedstock for biodiesel production.


Historic Distillers Grains Production from U.S. Ethanol Biorefineries:

Year Metric Tons
1999 2.3 million
2000 2.7 million
2001 3.1 million
2002 3.6 million
2003 5.8 million
2004 7.3 million
2005 9.0 million
2006 12.0 million
2007 14.6 million
2008 23.0 million
2009 30.5 million
2010 32.5 million
2011 39.0 million
2012 34.4 million
2013 35.5 million
2014 39.0 million
2015 40.0 million
2016 42.0 million


Ethanol co-products are fed to beef cattle, dairy cows, swine, poultry, and fish around the world.  Feed co-products represent an increasingly important share of profit opportunities for ethanol producers as well.

Corn Distillers Oil: Over the past decade, the ethanol industry has also emerged as a major producer of corn distillers oil (CDO), which is used as a feed ingredient or feedstock for biodiesel production. In 2016, dry mills extracted roughly 2.9 billion pounds of CDO.

Exports: American ethanol producers exported roughly 11.5 mmt of distillers grains in 2016, down slightly from 2015 but still the second-highest export volume on record. Lower distillers grains prices relative to competing feedstocks encouraged increased inclusion rates in livestock, poultry and fish rations across the globe. China, Mexico and Vietnam were the top three export markets, receiving roughly half of total U.S. shipments. South Korea, Turkey, Thailand, Canada and Indonesia were other leading markets.

While China remained the top market for U.S. distillers grains exports in 2016, the country’s imposition of anti-dumping and countervailing duties against U.S. distillers grains led to substantial erosion in that market. Exports to China peaked at roughly 1 mmt per month during the summer of 2015, but had fallen by more than 80% by the end of 2016.

Investing to Improve Quality
Ethanol producers are investing in new technologies to improve the quality and quantity of the livestock feed they produce. A number of dry mills are installing technology that allows them to separate crude corn oil from the stillage at the back end of the process. This crude corn oil can be sold into the feed market (particularly for poultry), further refined and sold into the human food market, or used as a feedstock for biodiesel.

Guidelines are also available for analyzing DDGS. A year-long study funded jointly by RFA, the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) offers recommended test methods for determining the moisture, crude protein, crude fat, and crude fiber content of DDGS. These factors are often viewed as the key determinants of the market value of the product. Historically, the lack of “standard” empirical DDGS test methods has led to results that vary significantly from laboratory to laboratory, causing product uncertainty for producers, marketers, nutritionists, regulatory bodies and — most importantly — distillers grains customers. RFA believes the widespread voluntary adoption of recommended test methods will reduce market confusion and add more structure to the DDGS marketplace. Click here for the report.

Useful links:

Feed Associations


RFA’s Mycotoxin Impacts on Ethanol Co-Products

This document focuses on mycotoxins (produced by fungi (molds) that can contaminate commodities and foods) and the possible impacts they may have on ethanol co-products, specifically revolving around the 2012 summer drought conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Kelly Davis at