Spent grain from breweries has been a staple for farm animals for centuries, but local beer makers worry that a federal rule could put an end to this symbiotic relationship.

Spent grain from breweries has been a staple for farm animals for centuries, but local beer makers worry that a federal rule could put an end to this symbiotic relationship.

"If it were to pass, it would impact every single brewer in the state," said Nick Ellis, owner of Opposition Brewing Co. of Medford, formerly known as Apocalypse.

Breweries steep grains such as barley to extract sugar and flavor for their brews (before fermentation), then the spent grain often gets donated or sold as animal feed. Ellis donates his spent grain to Hogs Creek Farm in Eagle Point, but he worries new federal rules would mean he'd have to dump it in a landfill.

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed tougher standards for breweries that would require sanitary handling procedures and extensive planning, record-keeping and reporting to health officials.

The proposed rules, which also require drying and packaging of spent grains, are part of the Food Safety Modernization Act.

The brewery industry has fought back, and the FDA has indicated it will offer a new set of proposed rules by the end of the summer.

Ellis said he's still not clear how the FDA is going to come down on this issue.

He said he has never heard of problems with animals eating the grain at Hogs Creek Farm or anywhere else.

"It's a huge resource for him, and a huge benefit for us," Ellis said. "Otherwise, we'd have to just throw it in the landfill."

He said his understanding of the FDA rule is that it would be acceptable to donate the spent grain, but not to sell it to a farmer.

If it's sold, the grain would have to be dried and packaged, he said.

Caldera Brewing Co. in Ashland goes through 20,000 pounds of grain a week, which is donated as well as traded to a pig farmer in exchange for pork that is served in the restaurant.

"It's heritage pork — well marbled," said Adam Benson, head brewer.

The barley and other grains help produce the equivalent of 18,000 kegs of beer a month, or 279,000 gallons.

Benson said 80 percent of the grain comes from the northern U.S. and Canada, and the hops come mostly from the Willamette Valley.

Caldera has two silos filled with malted barley, which is pumped into vats inside the building, where hot water helps extract the sugars. Once the process is finished, the spent grain is pumped into another silo, and trucks pull underneath it to get a load.

The barley mash tastes a little like under-cooked oatmeal but with a slightly sweet flavor.

During the entire process, the barley is enclosed in pipes and vats so there is little chance of contamination, Benson said.

He said he hasn't heard any complaints from farmers about the spent grain.

"The regulations are kind of ridiculous," he said.

Benson said the initial cost to process the spent grain to meet the FDA's rules would be about $100,000. Because this cost is prohibitive, he said, the grain could be used as compost for farmers or dumped in the landfill.

Jeff Day, owner of Hogs Creek Farm, said he uses up to 150 pounds of spent grain a day to feed his 100 chickens, four pigs and an assortment of geese. Even his dogs devour it, he said.

Throughout the week, Day said, he receives the grain in Rubbermaid containers from Bricktowne Brewery in Medford and from Opposition. He air-dries it somewhat before feeding it to the animals.

Day said he has never had any contamination issues with the grain, so he's not sure what led to the FDA's concern.

"It's legislation for the sake of legislation," he said.

Day said he deposits the grain in a trough above the ground so it doesn't pick up any contamination from the soil.

In addition to the grain, Day obtains organic feed from the Grange Co-op.

"We try to be sustainable," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.