You get what you pay for when it comes to forage inoculants

Posted on June 30, 2021 in Dairy Performance
By Dr. Michelle Chang-Der Bedrosian

Dr. Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, lists forage inoculants as one of his top five additives that pay for themselves many times over for lactating dairy cows.  However, not all bacterial strains with the same name behave the same, and not all inoculants will provide the same level of quality and effectiveness.  Price will always be a consideration when purchasing a forage inoculant, but, before you purchase inoculant based on price alone, take a moment to understand the amount of research and money that goes into creating and marketing a viable forage inoculant.

Unbiased, quality research
The first step in inoculant development is to isolate and test various bacterial strains from successfully fermented silage.  Once a potential strain is identified as being a strong fermenter that can be grown easily, it must be compared to inoculants currently on the market to determine if this would be a step forward in the industry or a lateral move.  The easiest way to do this is by conducting a mini-silo experiment.  Mini-silos are typically buckets, jars or vacuumed bags filled with silage that provide repetition you can’t get from large-scale silos.  A standard mini-silo trial will cost around $5,000 due to sample analysis, labor, materials, etc.

Once multiple mini-silo trials have been conducted to verify results, we start farm-scale trials and, eventually, animal trials.  Researchers from the University of Delaware, University of Florida and University of Wisconsin-Madison all agree the bare minimum charge for an animal trial with two treatments (untreated versus treated) would be $100,000.

Vita Plus Crop-N-Rich® forage inoculant has almost 300 mini-silo experiments and more than 15 lactation trials to support its claims to increase milk production, promote a more efficient fermentation, and reduce dry matter loss.  This means millions of dollars have gone into the development of Crop-N-Rich, a forage inoculant with dependable performance and proven return on investment, and it provides producers with real, reliable numbers to justify their investment.

Production and ongoing quality control
Many variables and costs go into mass-producing a forage inoculant that will flow through a low-volume applicator.  Growing a concentrated product that dissolves well in water is crucial because more than 2 to 3 grams of forage inoculant per ton of silage typically won’t flow through a Dohrmann applicator.  The best inoculant is of no use if it has an application rate of 15 grams per ton of silage, which is not practical, or if it does not mix into solution.  It requires state-of-the-art facilities with advanced skill, knowledge and expertise to make that happen.

Once the inoculant is produced and concentrated, it must also have long-term shelf stability.  The smallest amount of moisture in a product can cause the bacteria to die before it ever reaches the crop.  Ensuring product viability also requires quality packaging facilities and routine testing of random batches.

In-field service
The other unseen inoculant costs are for the services producers receive from those selling the inoculants.  Vita Plus uses a team-approach to provide these services and more to help you meet your farm’s production and financial goals:

  • Forage feedout strategy
  • Fermentation analysis
  • TMR particle length distribution evaluation
  • Manure scoring and fecal starch analysis
  • Mycotoxin mitigation strategies
  • Feeder training
  • Bunker and pile management surveying and benchmarking
  • Feed inventory management and predictive use
  • Commodity evaluation and selection
  • Inoculant applicator calibration
  • Harvest and storage planning
  • Kernel processing and chop length monitoring
  • Evaluation of forage seed technologies
  • Recommendations for small grains and other non-traditional forage sources

Not every company will provide these services, just as not every forage inoculant will have unbiased research supporting it, the ability to flow through a low-volume applicator, stability during storage, or continued quality control.  While some inoculants often come with a lower price tag, it is important to ask why the price is so low and what it is lacking when you are considering forage inoculants.  Contact your Vita Plus consultant to learn more about our forage products and services.

This article was originally written for the February edition of Vita Plus Forage Foundations.  Click here for more forage management technical expertise and practical tips.

About the author:  Dr. Michelle Chang-Der Bedrosian is a Vita Plus forage products and dairy technical service specialist. Chang-Der Bedrosian earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal science at the University of Delaware. She continued there to earn her Ph.D. in animal and food science, specializing in forage research with Dr. Limin Kung. Her thesis research centered on the use of a protease to improve starch digestibility earlier in the ensiling process. A New Jersey native, Chang-Der Bedrosian gained much of her farm experience during her collegiate years, milking cows, working in a forage laboratory, and performing dairy research. Based in Madison, Wisconsin, Chang-Der Bedrosian’s responsibilities at Vita Plus include forage product research and development, dairy research, and dairy technical services.

Category: Business and economics
Dairy Performance
Feed quality and nutrition
Forage harvesting
Forage inoculants