Forage contest evolves to meet dairy industry needs
While there have been many changes in the contest, the overall goal of the World Forage Analysis Superbowl, held annually in conjunction with World Dairy Expo, remains the same as it was 29 years ago when the event was launched.
"Our goal is to stress the importance of high-quality forages to dairy producers and show the quality that can be achieved on farmers’ fields," says Dan Undersander, a forage agronomist with University of Wisconsin–Extension who has been involved in the Superbowl since the mid-1980s.
Contest categories reflect the current trends and interests of the dairy industry. Originally, entries were limited to hay and haylage. In the 1990s, contest organizers added a category for alfalfa cubes. (It was later discontinued.) A few years later, a baleage category was added. As more dairies began basing rations on corn silage, categories for both traditional and brown midrib corn silage were added.
Last year, organizers added a grass hay category. "Grass is a forage that’s of interest again to dairy farmers," Undersander says. "Also, with a second or third cutting, the fiber, though higher, is more digestible."
Quality Counts Awards were also added for both the hay/haylage and corn silage entries. The awards recognize an additional characteristic, one which is not announced ahead of time.
"One year, we looked at ash content in the hay and haylage entries. The range among the entries was 6% to 18%, while the average was 10% to 12%. For each point above 10%, there’s 1% less energy available for the cows to use in making milk."
The biggest change over the years involves the technology used for analyzing samples. Initially, analysis centered on acid detergent fiber, neutral detergent fiber (NDF) and crude protein. Seven years ago, the core set of measurements was changed to NDF, digestible fiber and crude protein, reflecting the role that digestible fiber, rather than total fiber, plays in dairy nutrition and milk production. "We could make the change because NIR [near infrared] tests became commercially available," Undersander says.
One indication of the value of the contest to dairy producers: Last year, close to 400 samples were submitted by forage growers from two dozen states, a near record. "Dairy producers understand that good genetics can’t produce milk without good nutrition," Undersander says. "And good nutrition starts with good forages."