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Corn is Not a Commodity

Posted on: July 24, 2014 Author:


Corn is one of the most important crops in the world.  In 2009, more corn (by weight) was grown than any other grain – production around the world was greater than 800 million tons.  In the US and many other parts of the world, the majority of corn is used as livestock feed.

Livestock rations, for swine and poultry especially, rely heavily on corn and its by-products.  This is because corn is palatable by all major production animal species, easily digested and complements other major ingredients, such as oilseed meals, when balancing diet formulations to optimize performance.

As a result, corn is one of the most important commodities in the world – meaning that it is treated as similar, or the same, no matter who produced it.

Among other things, corn provides a large percentage of the dietary energy to the animal.  Most of the energy from corn is supplied as starch, and a small fraction as oil.  As I have written in a blog before, formulating a diet with information on energy content and requirements is important in order to maintain or enhance animal performance and efficiency, while minimizing cost.

This information on energy is often assumed and is rarely evaluated.  The problem with this was highlighted recently in a study describing normal variation in metabolizable energy contents of corn sampled around the US (Campasino et al., 2014).  The corn samples varied by 195 kcal/kg in apparent metabolizable energy (AME) content when fed to broiler chickens.  During personal communications with one of the authors, it was revealed to me that differences in the moisture contents of the corn samples were believed to be mainly responsible for differences in AME.

So, 195 kcal/kg may not seem like much, but consider the following data taken from broilers fed corn / extruded full-fat soy diets after 21 days:



Corn is 55-70% of typical broiler diet formulations.  So, normal variation in AME values, determined using corn from around the US, could easily reduce broiler growth performance and feed efficiency.

I’ve written before (see here and here) about the importance of incoming raw materials programs for every operation.  In addition, using processing techniques, such as extrusion, to liberate as much energy that is possible from a feed ingredient can attenuate normal variability.  This is especially important for the broiler industry, which is built on uniformity to allow for the 71 million plus tons of chicken meat produced every year in the world.

So, corn was commoditized long ago, but to conclude, this is not necessarily the case.  Simple testing, including moisture, and accumulating this data over time, will help determine the actual, inherent value of each batch of corn.


Campasino, A., T.A. Wickersham, H.V. Masey O’Neill, and J.T. Lee. 2014. Effects of nutrient variability in corn associated with geographical location and xylanase inclusion on energy utilization. Personal Communication.

Durable Equipment and Parts Give You a Better Product and Better Return on Investment

Posted on: July 17, 2014 Author:

During my frequent visits to food and feed plants in Latin America, I often encounter under-performing extruders due to the replacement of factory parts with locally-made, copied parts. More times than not, the plant may be trying to cut down on maintenance costs or the factory-made, proper parts are not locally available.


Unfortunately, buying a knockoff part for an extruder is very similar to buying a knockoff part for a vehicle. It may work in the short term to varying results, but the best way to guarantee peak performance and equipment longevity is to use original factory parts.

If a knockoff is not made correctly or with the same materials, it can cause irreversible damage to equipment and several days of downtime. Downtime means losing money due to lack of production, so it is very important to make sure this does not occur. Not to mention with Fedex, UPS and DHL, international parts orders take only a matter of days to arrive. In the long run, the consequences of using copied, locally-made parts need to be understood.

At a recent Pet and Aquatic Feed Clinic held in Des Moines, Iowa, I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bernal Rojas, Director of Alimentos del Valle in Costa Rica, a pet food manufacturer. Mr. Rojas explained to the group of attendees that 35 years ago his company purchased a 2500 extruder to make dog food. The same extruder that was purchased is still running strong today. He also emphasized the importance of buying original parts instead of local copies:

“We replaced our worn out Insta-Pro parts with brand new, inexpensive local parts. The product coming out of the extruder was worse with the new local parts than with the old, worn out Insta-Pro parts, so we had to reinstall the old parts until we could order some original parts from the factory.” 

In the end, the wise decision is to buy replacement parts that come from wherever the equipment was purchased, if at all possible. In order to get the most out of each extruder while producing the best possible product, using factory-made parts is the best option. Taking into account the longevity of the Insta-Pro parts, at the end of the day the operational cost per hour is the same or less than using local knockoffs.