Agronomy -- Forages -- Alfalfa

Alfalfa field, late June after very wet spring, Pope County, MN. Photo by David Hansen.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. – Livestock producers who put up hay, or folks who produce hay to sell, may benefit from applying a preservative to their forages.

Preservatives allow producers to put up high quality hay or haylage despite a shortened harvesting window due to weather events. It allows producers to harvest hay earlier in the season with higher moisture levels and reduced leaf loss.

Adding a preservative to high quality forage offers dairy producers a good return on the dollar, said Bruce Werner, director and product specialist forage preservative division for IBA, Inc.

“If you think about treated vs. untreated hay, it can be worth anywhere from $15 to $20 more per ton,” Werner said.

Approximately 85 percent of U.S. dairy quality hay receives a preservative, said Werner, providing an interview during the Central Minnesota Farm Show. Dairy farmers understand the high cost of hay production and the importance of minimizing dry matter loss due to heat, mold or yeast damage. Ultimately, quality hay fed correctly improves every aspect of any ruminant operation.

Applying a preservative as it is fed into the baler could allow a producer to successfully harvest alfalfa at a maximum of 22 percent moisture. A preservative would not dry out those bales, but it would allow the producer to minimize leaf loss and maintain high quality nutrients – while keeping mold at bay.

“It widens out the time they have to bale,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of sunny days, so we’ll extend the time they can start and stop because they can have a much wider moisture range.”

Werner encourages producers to cut alfalfa early – pre-bud stage to maximize the quality and protein.

“It’s really critical if they harvest at 18 percent vs. 14 percent and minimize leaf shatter – that’s going to raise their relative feed value somewhere between 20-40 points,” he said. “Cattle can only eat so much, so the higher quality it is, that’s going to minimize what the producer has to spend at the feed bunk.”

Studies by IBA determined their preservative vs. no preservative resulted in 87 percent mold reduction in high moisture hay.

Soil moisture is a big concern in the Upper Midwest and can increase forage moisture pre-harvest or when forage is laying in swaths. When soils are moist, a preservative is a good investment, Werner said.

IBA, a family-owned company, sells 11 different preservative products that focus on the producer’s goals whether they are using bunkers or drive-over piles, filling silos, making baleage or producing high moisture baled hay. These include Preservor, a high moisture hay potassium sorbate preservative, IBA’s Opti-Sile Advance CS/L or Opti-Sile Pro dry concentrate, Crop Cure and IBA Forage Enhance-R.

“Actually of all the products you can buy on your dairy, this is going to give you one of the largest returns,” Werner said.