UDSA: More Corn to be Used for Fuel Than Feed

UDSA: More Corn to be Used for Fuel Than Feed

The USDA estimates that in 2011-2012, more corn will be used for ethanol production than for food. This could mean an increase in horse feed prices in the near future.

Photo: Photos.com

A USDA estimate that more corn will go into producing ethanol than into feeding horses in 2011 and 2012 will likely force livestock owners to cope with higher feed costs, according to a University of Missouri (UM) Extension economist.

Ethanol, a clean burning high octane motor fuel produced from renewable resources, can be produced from so-called "cellular biomass" such as wood and grasses. In the United States, however, corn is most widely used to produce ethanol. According to the American Coalition for Ethanol, more than 75% of gasoline used in the U.S. contains some ethanol.

A recently released USDA Crop Production and Supply/Demand Report estimates 5.1 billion bushels of corn will be used to make ethanol this year while only 4.9 billion bushels will be used to feed livestock, Plain said.

The projection represents the first time more corn has been used for fuel than for food, said UM Extension economist Ron Plain.

"Corn supply is getting tighter and more expensive," Plain explained. "Alternative feed supplies go up and down with the price of corn. Alfalfa hay, for example, will be higher with higher corn prices."

Roger Meissen, senior information specialist for the University of Missouri Cooperative Media Group, said university researchers continue to explore ways to produce the biofuel using crops such as willow and cotton wood. Other research focuses on developing other biofuel crops including sorghum and switchgrass.

Meanwhile, private sector researchers are also working on ways to use less corn to produce more ethanol. Becky Timmons, director of applications research at Alltech, a Kentucky-based producer of animal nutrition, health, and performance products, said the firm is studying alternatives to cellulosic ethanol production sources.

"We continue to do work with cellulosic sources for ethanol, but our primary focus right now is on algae oils," Timmons said.

According to Meissen, federal mandates call for the annual production of 36 million gallons of ethanol by 2022. Of those, 15 billion gallons will be derived from non-edible wood, grasses, or other plants, he said.

But when other materials will overtake corn as the primary ethanol-making material is a matter of economics, said Plain.

"Knowing how to do something and doing it cost effectively are two different things," Plain said. "We have known how to use (cellulosic sources) to make ethanol for a century, but we have never found a way to do it cheaply."

Meanwhile, Jennifer Williams, PhD, president and executive director of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in Texas, said using more corn for fuel rather than feed will further stress horse owners who are already struggling to maintain their animals. Rising care costs will also strain rescue operators' resources who take in animals whose owners cannot afford to feed them.

"Because the cost of everything is going up, our adoption rate has plummeted, fewer people are fostering animals, and donations are down," Williams said. "Anything that drives up the cost of animal food is going to hurt horses."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More