The Case for Forage Inoculant

As I watch the Chicago Board of Trade prices, I notice they continue to float in the $6 range for corn and the $13 range for soybean. Those are pretty exciting numbers as long as you are not buying it to feed your livestock. Suddenly a lot of people are cleaning up fence lines and crowding the road to push their total yields and capitalize on historic high prices. As they should. Maximizing return should be a top priority.

The issue I see is that sometimes people don’t treat their silage and forage with the same care as they put into their row crops. It’s easy to do since you don’t see the direct results of your forage program until it is run through livestock. By then it is not exactly obvious what the forage was contributing. The other mindset that plays into this is that growers with dairies put their cows ahead of their cropping. Again, perfectly understandable. Cows are a lot of work and it is the milk that brings in the cash.

I challenge all producers to look at maximizing their return per acre. Unless your name is Ted Turner, you have only so many acres to work with. Maximizing productions is key.

How does forage inoculant work into this? To start with, we must understand what forage inoculant does. Inoculant is nothing more than specific strains of bacteria selected to feed on some of the plant material and convert it to lactic or acetic acid (depending on bacteria used). The benefits of this is that the bacteria quickly uses up oxygen and drops the PH of the forage to prevent spoilage agents (such as yeasts and molds) feeding on the forage. When the forage is fed, the cow or other animals can digest not only the plant material but the bacteria and the acid that was produced. In fact, the bacteria normally makes it easier for the cow to digest the forage. The bacteria reduces or prevents spoilage organisms that are not digestible by the cow and make them ill or strain their immune system.

Inoculant does not make your forage better. Its job is to keep what you have from spoiling. The longer oxygen and PH levels stay high, the more energy loss to non-beneficial organisms, usually manifested through heating and dry matter shrinkage. Inoculant normally will save 3-5% in dry matter loss, which easily pays for itself especially under the current high price markets we are experiencing. Even more important, the loss it is preventing is from the best part of the plant cells. The spoilage organisms are feeding on the high energy parts of the cell’s interior and leaving the lower energy cell wall unphased. Instead of being $30-60 per ton, the dry matter loss is actually $108-$215 per ton.

So should we care about saving 3-5% of our forage? What is 3-5% loss in a row crop? If your corn were yielding 200 bu/acre, it would be a 6-10 bushel loss. With that kind of loss you would probably be looking to change your variety and possibly your seed company. If you had 1500 ton crop of forage and lost 45-75 tons, how many days of feeding would you lose?

By saving 3-5% of your forage from loss, you can reduce the number of acres devoted to forage production or feed more livestock. Both scenarios add to your bottom line with increased milk, beef or grain sales. In good years and bad – inoculant pays for itself.

April 2012 Earfull Newsletter
Written by Alex Renk

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