Q. How can I be sure I’m using enough inoculant on my forage crops?
A. Using the right amount of inoculant will help drive a rapid, efficient fermentation once your forage crops are ensiled. Some inoculants can also improve aerobic stability, which improves the “shelf life” of your silage. Both elements are critical to maximizing dry matter (DM) and nutrient retention in the feedstuffs. Therefore, it’s important to use the correct levels of a research-proven inoculant to do the job.
This will require some studying of product literature for independent verification of efficacy, and the product label itself to check application rates. To get a good ensiling fermentation, you need a forage inoculant that provides an application rate of at least 100,000 colony forming units (CFUs) of proven, efficient lactic acid producing bacteria per gram of fresh forage. This is the minimum level as recognized by university researchers. To support aerobic stability, inoculation with a high dose-rate of Lactobacillus buchneri 40788 has been proven in independent trials to be the most consistent option. L. buchneri 40788 applied at a rate of 400,000 CFU per gram of forage (600,000 for HMC) is the only microbial active reviewed by the FDA and allowed to claim improved aerobic stability of silages and HMC.
Be sure your application equipment is clean and calibrated correctly. Even distribution of inoculants at the recommended rate is a key factor in ensuring best efficacy. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations for calibration to ensure a consistent amount is being applied. Application rates should be checked several times a day. Estimate tons cut per minute and calibrate the inoculant application accordingly. Then track the tons of silage harvested versus the packages of inoculant used to help ensure the product is being applied according to label directions.
It is important to remember that inoculants contain live, viable microbials. Researchers at the University of Delaware showed that if temperatures in the applicator tank reach 115°F, microbial viability declines quickly. In a separate study of field application systems, the researchers found applicators with insulated holding tanks maintained the product at lower temperatures, resulting in better viability and more consistent application of products at the correct rates. If the low-volume insulated tank system is not practical, review the applicator tank location (i.e. not close to machinery exhaust systems or other sources of heat) and other ways to shield the applicator from the sun. Use ice blocks to keep the tank contents cool. Freezing water in old soda bottles can provide cost-effective protection for your inoculant investment!
Be sure to look for independently researched products that are proven to produce the desired results at the CFU application rate in the target crop. Trials should validate the efficiency of the product and, ideally, be published in a reputable journal or presented at a scientific conference.
I hope this information helps ensure a good supply of microbes for your forage.
The Silage Dr.