A group of 13 trade delegates from Vietnam recently visited the farm of Harold Wolle in St. James, Minn., and the Poet Biorefining ethanol plant in Lake Crystal as part of a weeklong fact-finding tour. The group was impressed by the productivity of American farmers and agribusinesses, and they were reassured by seeing firsthand the quality of their products.
A major objective of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), which helped organize the trade mission, was to assure the government of Vietnam of the quality of distillers grains and solubles (DDGS) — the high protein feed product that U.S. ethanol plants export around the world, including Vietnam. USGC and the ethanol industry are working together to convince Vietnam to change an element of its current import policy.
Vietnam requires fumigation of all DDGS shipments. There had been a limited number of incidents in 2012 and 2015 where insects were found in shipments, but they hope to convince Vietnam that its blanket policy of fumigating all shipments is unnecessary. Feed and livestock businesses in Vietnam are clearly big fans of the product. They are the sixth highest importer of U.S. DDGS, purchasing 560,000 metric tons in 2015. Interest in DDGS is increasing in part because the cost of pork in Vietnam has risen by 30 percent this year, according to USGC. Vietnam is also a major importer of U.S. corn, buying 6 million metric tons last year.
Wolle, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association President, welcomed the Vietnam trade group to his farm and showed them around the pole barn and the fields.
Members of the delegation asked Wolle if he has ever had pests in his silos, and he told them he has only had to fumigate one time in his farming career of more than four decades — that was corn that was in storage for three years back in the 1970s.
Chad and Krista Willis, farmers in Willmar, attended the tour to help welcome the delegation. As a participant in the most recent Minnesota Agricultural and Rural Leadership (MARL) class, Krista Willis toured Vietnam with a group of Minnesota leaders. She praised the entrepreneurial spirit of the Vietnamese, and commented that the trade relationship between the two countries is bound to remain strong and grow.
Vuong Ngoc Bich, told about the vast differences between American and Vietnamese agriculture.
“Our government divides land into 0.3 acre parcels — that’s what each farmer has,” said Vuong, who started her own import/export company that handles feed ingredients including DDGS from the US. “Our government is encouraging farmers to look into ways to adopt modern seed and inputs and equipment, but currently it is not possible.”
By contrast, Harold and his son Matt are the working partners in a 1,600-acre farm, where they utilize GPS-linked precision equipment and grow genetically modified crops.
“We tried BT corn when it came out and we saw the increase in yield and the reduction in pesticides, we never went back,” Harold told the group.
Ethanol tour educates
Dionne Meehan, Regulatory Affairs Quality Manager for Poet’s network of 27 biorefineries, explained the Food Safety Modernization Act, and how it put strict guidelines in place for animal feed production. The compliance rules are just now going into force, but Poet Refining instituted quality control processes that consistently exceeded those guidelines, Meehan explained.
Poet utilizes independent testing laboratories for quality assurance, and works with all of the segments in the transportation and distribution of their DDGS to make sure they reach the consumer as the safest, highest quality feed product available.
Jim Lambert, general manager of Poet Biorefining — Lake Crystal, welcomed the group and led them on a tour of the ethanol and DDGS production facilities. He noted that the plant produced 56 million gallons of ethanol last year, or 212 million liters; 143,000 tons of DDGS, equivalent to 130,000 metric tons; and extracted 8,100 tons of corn oil, which is 7,400 metric tons.
David Kiesner, one of Poet’s export traders, described the evolution of the DDGS feed industry.
“Looking at DDG production, in 2015, the industry produced 39 million metric tons, and Poet represents 12 percent of that production with 4.5 million metric tons (at its 27 plants),” Kiesner told the group. “Some of the markets for POET’s DDG are Asia, Middle East, Africa, North and South America.”
One of the trends in DDGS has been the extraction of corn oil, for use as a value-added feed ingredient, and for the production of biofuels. Research has demonstrated that reduced- and low-fat DDGS (from which oil has been removed) performs equally well as a feed ingredient.
“The U.S. ethanol industry produces about 1 billion pounds of corn oil and POET makes up over half of that production,” Kiesner said.
He also described BPX, POET’s patented technology that exposes the grain to less heat, both in the fermentation and in the drying process, which has resulted in a higher quality feed product. Kiesner told the group that POET separates DDGS that meet a higher quality standard and market it under the brand “Dakota Gold.”
DDG usage in the US is primarily beef, dairy, poultry and swine.
“Research looking at fat and digestibility shows fat (levels in DDGS) has no relation to available energy,” according to Kevin Herrick, animal nutrition expert with POET. “But look at the fiber component and there is a stronger correlation between fiber and available energy.”
Milling and other treatment of the grain and the DDGS product also result in a smaller particle size, Herrick said.
“Particle size is also important,” Herrick said. “Dakota Gold is a very fine particle size. How does that relate to digestibility? If you start with a large particle size, it’s going to take a lot of effort to get those enzymes to break down that particle. But if you have smaller particles there is a lot more surface area, which increases digestibility.”