Tech upgrade lets Cargill offer real-time forage analysis

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

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Cargill Animal Nutrition is using a hand-held near-infrared spectrometer and an app to offer instant forage analysis for dairy producers.

The Minnesota-based agro-giant has teamed with Consumer Physics to offer a real-time forage analysis service, it reported. The technology company makes SCiO, a pocket-sized connected micro-spectrometer or near-infrared (NIR) device.

The analysis service, called Reveal, uses what is reported to be the world’s smallest micro-spectrometer, said Justin Howes, strategic marketing lead, with Cargill US dairy business. The process is being offered for dairy producers, but could be used by beef producers as well.  

The analysis program aims to offer producers the ability to assess forage dry matter fluctuations when they happen, he said. It can allow producers a way to more quickly adapt feed generation with the goal of improving production and “income over feed costs.”

“Research by the University of Wisconsin shows changes of dry matter of 3 to 8 percentage points dry matter within lots of both corn silage and haylage, and variation of 6 to 10% dry matter between lots of both silage types,”​ he told FeedNavigator. “With today’s precision diets, those variations in dry matter can result in lost production, wasted nutrients, or both. Dairy producers utilizing Reveal will be able to better ensure that the ration on paper matches what is fed to the cow.

The new technology and service are being offered to dairy producers in the US at this time, he added.

NIR system in action

Cargill started offering the service in July, said Howes. Early adopters are offered a month with no service fee. The service is intended to be available for the majority of dairy producers.

“Industry experts have identified feeding management, specifically accurate and frequent assessment of silage dry matter to ensure consistent diet delivery, as one of the key areas of opportunity for dairy operations,”​ he said. “Until now, the only options for measuring dry matter were either too expensive or too time consuming to make it practical for the majority of dairy farmers.”

The program is being marketed toward dairy farmers who want to know they are offering consistent dry matter intake for their cows, he said. “The analysis can be done by anyone, anywhere, at any time and there is no limit to the number of samples that can be analyzed,”​ he added.

“To get the most value from the service, dairy farmers can analyze their forage for changes in dry matter right before mixing the TMR [total mixed ration],”​ he said. “This allows them to make adjustments in real-time, rather than days or weeks later, to ensure they deliver the diet the nutritionist formulated on paper for their cows.”

The device can be used to measure several samples from the same forage to generate an average for the ingredient, he said. It also may be used to determine the optimal harvest window for dry matter capture.

“Nearing harvest, forage dry matter changes daily, especially for corn silage,” ​said Howes. “For legume haylage, proper dry matter at harvest can be the difference between disaster and profit.”

The system works by using the micro-spectrometer to scan forage samples, he said. “The app transmits scans to Cargill’s Elk River Forage Lab calibrations which are housed and continually updated in the cloud,” ​he added.

That dataset of feed ingredients uses a set of proprietary calibrations to assess the information, he said.

“The service is designed to give dairy farmers the ability to better manage their dry matter quality, from field to feed out, by giving them a precise, convenient, and cost-effective way to measure their dry matter,” ​said Howes.

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