With Record High Protein Costs: This May Be the Year to Consider Planting “Hi-Gest” Alfalfa as Your Protein Source
By Dr. Don Miller, Director of Product Development, Alforex Seeds
The cost of soybean meal, the most widely used protein supplement in dairy rations, continues to be at record levels and there appears to be a consensus from experts that this price trend will continue for at least next year and possibly longer. At the start of 2021 protein costs for animal feed was predicted to increase 12%, making it the highest year-over-year increase since 2011.
Several factors appear to be causing this price increase. In 2020-2021 the Chinese demand for feedstuffs reached an all-time high. This combined with low commodity inventories in prior years and the current drought conditions in the US, have contributed to a significant increase in the price of protein supplements.
The sharp increase in the cost of protein supplements, combined with increases in feed commodity prices such as corn are having a significant effect on the cost of formulating Dairy rations. Corn grain and whole soybeans recently reached cost-per-bushel prices not seen since 2013. A bushel of corn in July of 2020 was $3.21 and this July it was $6.00. Soybean meal prices have followed suit, with their highest price per ton since 2014. In August of 2020 the price for a bushel of soybeans was $8.38, today it is $13.71. Dairy operations that rely primarily on these 2 twofeedstuffs are seeing significant increases in their costs for milk production.
For years Dairies dairies have been steadily reducing the amount of alfalfa in their total mixed ration (TMR) and replacing it mainly with corn, soybean meal protein, and a mixed bag of other feedstuffs including distiller’s grain, cotton seed meal, almond seed hulls and various food byproducts to reduce feed costs and increase milk production. Corn combined with soybean meal as a protein source, have been the major drivers in the reduction of alfalfa in Dairy dairy rations.
The current pricing of these 2 commodities in a TMR is significantly reducing the profit margins in milk production. One possible solution to reducing these high input costs would be to consider modifying the type and/or percentages of forages in the TMR as well as the protein source.
With that in mind, this may be the year to reconsider alfalfa’s current role in corn/soybean meal based TMR’s and utilize alfalfa more fully to reduce input costs, especially the high cost of soybean meal as a protein supplement. The importance of alfalfa in a dairy ration has been well known for years both for its feeding value and as a good protein source. However, many Dairies dairies are still under-utilizing alfalfa in the ration, using it mainly as a high-quality fiber source for the rumen.
Increasing the role of Alfalfa alfalfa in a TMR in the current pricing structure seems to be justified especially if you consider the recent advancements in alfalfa genetics. If these improved alfalfa varieties were utilized as protein source instead of soybean meal, they could significantly reduce the Dairy’s dairy’s protein expense. The advantage of alfalfa in an expanded role in a TMR could be especially beneficial if new varieties like “ alfalfas with Hi-Gest®”alfalfa Alfalfa Technology varieties are used. Hi-Gest® varieties have significant improvements in fiber digestibility as well as an improvement in the Leaf leaf-to to-Stem stem Ratioratio. These genetic improvements provide a 5-8% increase in leaf content which translates into a 3-5% increase in crude protein. This additional protein could greatly expand alfalfa’s role as a lower cost protein source in a dairy ration.
The high cost of feed commodities, especially corn and soybean meal protein are making Dairy dairy producers look for alternatives to reduce costs. The decision to reduce feed and protein supplement costs may be as simple as increasing the percentage of a high-quality alfalfa in the ration. Hi-Gest® alfalfa Alfalfa Technology varieties with their significant improvement in fiber digestibility combined with their corresponding increase in crude protein of 3-5% make them an ideal choice to reduce the need for buying high priced soybean meal as a protein supplement. The cost savings could be even more significant if the alfalfa was produced in-house by the dairy and its value priced at the cost of production, reducing overall feed and protein expenses.
For more information on “Hi-Gest®” alfalfa Alfalfa Technology varieties go to our website: www.alforexseeds.com or call us at 1-800-824-8585.