By Dr. Michelle Windle, Vita Plus forage products and dairy technical service specialist
Dairy cows are fed silage all year-round. This means selecting the right inoculant for your operation has the potential to impact the farm’s bottom line on many fronts. With the inoculant market becoming flooded with so many different choices, it's getting harder to decide which inoculant is right for your needs. A good inoculant should meet certain qualifications before being considered for use on a farm. These qualifications include the following:
- Inoculants should have at least 100,000 colony forming units (cfu) per gram of an upfront fermenter or 400,000 cfu per gram of Lactobacillus buchneri. In general, two types of bacterial inoculants exist - those that decrease pH quickly and those that prevent spoilage.
Bacteria that decrease pH quickly are L. plantarum and Pediococcus pentosaceus. These bacteria consume sugars and produce lactic acid. The scientific community generally agrees at least 100,000 cfu per gram are needed to be effective.
Inoculants that contain L. buchneri aim to prevent spoilage via the production of acetic acid, an antifungal compound. The FDA has endorsed L. buchneri “for improved aerobic stability of silage and high moisture corn,” specifically at the rate of 400,000 cfu per gram.
- Inoculants should use good quality bacteria with reliable stability. Some bacterial species are more effective than others, and some inoculants contain varying amounts of different bacterial species (some contain as many as seven or eight different species). Those inoculants often raise red flags because one species is never present in sufficient numbers to be effective. Reliable stability is also key because the bacterial species in inoculants are living and need to stay alive until they are applied to the crop.
- Published, unbiased research is absolutely crucial when choosing a quality inoculant. The more research you can find on an inoculant, the better because research trials can shed light on the effectiveness of an inoculant. Testimonials can certainly be persuasive, but these do not compare treated to untreated silages and any treatment differences that occur could have been artificially created.
- All inoculants should include a practical application rate. The best inoculant in the world is completely useless if it can’t be applied to the crop. For example, an application rate of 15 grams per ton won’t flow through a low-volume applicator. Practicality is also necessary when considering inoculants as you don’t want to waste your money and use too much inoculant in one spot when it could be used in another.
- Finally, good service is invaluable. Good service should matter more than the prompt delivery of a packet of inoculant. An effective forage consultant should strive to improve forage quality outside of the simple application of an inoculant.
The right inoculant can help minimize dry matter (DM) losses, improve aerobic stability, and improve forage quality, digestion, and production. The standards outlined above should help you choose the right inoculant for your operation. Contact your Vita Plus consultant if you have any questions about choosing an inoculant for this year.