WET growing conditions in the Midwest opened the door for several challenges in the 2015 wheat crop.
As a result, wheat farmers are seeing price docks and discounts at the elevator, mainly due to increased disease, low test weights and sprout-damaged wheat. Depending on how much the price has been docked and infection level, this wheat may be best utilized as livestock feed, according to University of Illinois Extension beef educator Travis Meteer.
"Farmers and ranchers will need to test grains and grain byproducts before including them in animal diets," Meteer said. "Storage of infected wheat is important. The grain will need to be dried down to less than 18% moisture to stop mycotoxin growth, and drying to 13% moisture is recommended for longer-term storage."
Levels of mycotoxins, especially vomitoxin, should be tested. Feeding grains with elevated levels of vomitoxin can cause decreased feed intake, resulting in poor performance and compromised animal health in severe cases, Meteer explained. Several factors should be looked at when feeding wheat from this year's crop.
Low test weights. Low test weights do not always equal lower feed value.
"Normally, low-test weight grains have less starch and higher percentages of protein and fiber (seed coat). This can negatively impact feed value, but not always," Meteer said. "In most cases, if test weight is more than 50 lb./bu., animal performance will not be negatively affected. If test weight is lower than 50 lb./bu., the feed value is likely 90-95% of the value of normal test weight."
Sprout-damaged wheat. Numerous research studies have looked at feeding sprout-damaged wheat. Meteer said the majority of research showed no difference in animal performance or feed efficiency.
"However, sprout-damaged wheat is more susceptible to aflatoxin infection. If wheat is sprout-damaged, an aflatoxin test should be performed before feeding," he added.
Vomitoxin. Fusarium graminearum is the fungal disease that produces the deoxynivenol (DON) mycotoxin, also known as vomitoxin. Often, infected wheat will appear shriveled and pink in color and may be referred to as "tombstone" in shape, Meteer explained. Levels of vomitoxin are not reliably predicted visually.
"Testing is the best method to determine the level of mycotoxin present," he added.
"Test and monitor vomitoxin/DON levels in grains and grain byproducts to be fed to livestock. Blending vomitoxin-bearing wheat with clean grains at the time of feeding can be a good practice to reduce vomitoxin levels in the diet," Meteer said.
While dilution is the solution, according to Meteer, he added that blending should occur only directly before feeding.
"Blended grain is not legal for resale. Blending grains before feeding could result in contamination of clean grains," he said.
Toxin-binding agents can also be incorporated into a ration.
"Many studies have shown that phyllosilicate feed additives (clays, sodium bentonite, aluminosilicate) bind toxins," Meteer said. "These products can bind toxins and ensure they are not absorbed by the animal. It would be a good idea to use toxin binders in a ration that includes grains that are tested with elevated mycotoxin levels."
Feeding wheat requires management. Wheat will need to be processed to obtain a good feed value. However, processing will compound rapidly fermentable properties, Meteer explained. "As a result, inclusion rates should be kept low in diets. Special attention will need to be given to ruminants that are transitioning from forage-based rations," he said.
Meteer recommends that producers look at the cost of wheat after processing and on an "in-the-bunk" basis. With moderate corn prices, farmers need to be cognizant of the real cost of using wheat as feed before purchasing or utilizing damaged wheat for feed, he said.
Straw from harvested fields that have tested high for a mycotoxin should be less risky than feeding the grain. "However, there can still be elevated levels of mycotoxins, including vomitoxin, in straw. Using the straw for bedding would be the lowest risk versus feeding straw in a ration. Straw that appears moldy and straw that is baled wet should be tested before feeding or bedding," Meteer said.
"Producers should be aware that mycotoxin-contaminated straw can be a problem, but the risk is much less than feeding grains," he added.
Dairy digester grant
The California Department of Food & Agriculture (CDFA) announced that the AgPower Visalia LLC project in Tulare County, Cal., has been awarded a $3 million dairy digester research and development grant.
The project, developed by Camco Clean Energy, will be constructed by Regenis at the Moonlight Dairy in Visalia, Cal., as part of the state's aggressive push to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
When completed, the digester will generate approximately 6 million kWh of renewable electricity annually while allowing the dairy to safely reuse liquid on the farm from the 100,000 gal. of manure it produces each day, which, in turn, will save hundreds of millions of gallons of water.
This is the eighth dairy digester grant application submitted by Regenis to receive public funding.
Like the other 13 anaerobic digesters Regenis has previously built, the Moonlight digester will be a two-stage mixed plug flow from DVO Inc. of Wisconsin, which makes the only American-designed anaerobic digester on the market. Together, the partnership between Regenis and DVO has generated nearly a half-million megaWatt-hours of clean energy from dairy waste.
Financial assistance for the installation of dairy digesters comes from California's cap-and-trade program for combating climate change. Through the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund, CDFA and other state agencies are investing cap-and-trade auction proceeds in projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while providing a variety of additional benefits.
"These projects demonstrate a commitment by California to support efforts by dairy farmers to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gases from the agriculture sector," CDFA secretary Karen Ross said. "This is definitely a win-win for agriculture: cutting methane emissions and improving the environment while also generating revenue from renewable bioenergy."
Regenis vice president Bryan Van Loo said the company looks forward to building its second digester project in Tulare County.
"By committing to the entire process it takes to build a digester -- writing grants as well as building, operating and maintaining them -- we not only build closed-loop systems, but we are a closed-loop system, helping our farming partners reimagine their reusable resources for a healthier bottom line as well as a healthier environment," Van Loo said.