by Brian L. Foose, staff archives
Alfalfa production practices, as all crop production practices, involve a myriad of variables that must be monitored and addressed. There are many for which controls are easily tracked and managed, such as inputs associated with soil and crop nutrition, and water management. There are many others for which controls and management are more difficult to account for. These include variables such as ambient temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, possible variations in water quality, weed and pest management, etc.
These extraneous variables can present a significant challenge in producing a favorable yield and desired quality. This is especially a factor in preservation of harvested forage crops such as alfalfa. Moisture levels in the crop have long dictated the appropriate time to cut, row, and bail the crop for storage. Once cut, a crop begins a natural process of breaking down as a result of anaerobic microbial activity (decay). This process results in a biochemical reaction that generates heat that further damages the quality of the harvested crop. The heat can be high enough to cause auto-combustion within the bails, ag-bags, or other storage methods, thus causing the stored harvest to “go up in smoke”.
In order to extend the storage life of harvested forage, many companies have developed additives to help slow the organic breakdown process. Few of these, aside from ViTech’s ViMaxx are designed with a balanced package of essential aerobic micro-organisms and enzymes that will subdue the anaerobic microbes, thus resulting in more favorable biological conditions for extended storability. The use of such materials relies heavily on the management of the moisture variables. It stands to reason that if ambient temperature and relative humidity are higher, the moisture level point for harvest should be adjusted down a few percentage points to account for this. When properly applied, ViMaxx will promote aerobic bacterial balance, which in turn will minimize heat generation, and will promote improved retention of proteins, sugars, and total feed value.
There is no known “boilerplate” fix, or program, that can be successfully applied in all scenarios. It is a scientific art-form that relies on grower or manager “know-how”, and is a very important element in the overall practices in harvesting a high quality “storable” crop. Field consultants are the second line of defense. They offer many of the recommendations that growers must consider in their decision making process. As all crop inputs, proper application rates, timing, and moisture content consideration are important. Soil testing and plant tissue analysis are essential.
Preserving feed crops such as alfalfa can be greatly affected by the general health of the crop. Maximized crop health will in turn, maximize the ability preserve the crop, and assure optimum total feed value. The first step in producing quality feed crop yields is to assure that the plant “grows-up healthy”. The use of soil building products such as ViTech’s ViBasic, ViClout, and XCite will provide an essential foundation for producing healthy plants. Carefully timed foliar application of required minerals and nutrients will further the health of the plant. Harvesting a healthy crop will ultimately increase the ability to successfully store the crop. Proper use of a biological based preservative such as ViTech’s ViMaxx will ultimately “maximize” the chances for success, the bottom line.