Feed to seed

HydroGreen produces fodder in six days

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – As Holstein enthusiasts gathered in South Dakota for a week showcasing progress in the industry, a tour to HydroGreen Innovation Center showcased the leading edge of technology and innovation in the dairy industry.
“Here at HydroGreen, we have created commercial scale crops from seed to feed in just six days,” said Ben Schmidt, president of HydroGreen. “We essentially control the environment and replicate Mother Nature indoors.”
The forage company was a stop for attendees of the National Holstein Convention June 29 in Sioux Falls.
Tour groups visited the company’s research and development facility where they learned about how forage is produced in their indoor vertical pastures and the benefits of it within a cow’s diet.
The 140-hour process begins with separating and cleaning the seeds to ensure consistency throughout the crop. The seeds are then placed on the grow rack system about a half-inch thick with an automatic seeder. Each level on the rack is planted on a different day to ensure fresh harvest daily.
“The benefit of having a fresh forage available every day, 365 days a year, is the consistency of feed for the animals,” Schmidt said. “Cows are creatures of habit. The more consistent the ration is the better for performance and animal health.”
The seeds are given water and LED lighting through an automated system. When the feed reaches peak nutritional value at day six, it is harvested. The whole level of forage is then unloaded into a feed sizer. The mat of feed is cut into uniform-sized particles that allow for easy mixing with other feed ingredients in a ration.  
The company has two rack systems available. The DG rack system can produce around 3,000 pounds of forage a day, and the GLS system can produce upward of 34,000 pounds per day.
It is recommended the forage be about 15% of a cow’s dry matter intake.
“The forage has a lot of glucose and enzymes,” Schmidt said. “The cows love smelling it, and because it is so efficient, the cows will actually eat more of their other feedstuffs.”
The flexibility and consistency of the product has been primarily focused on transition cow diets.
The company has found three important factors their product has aided, especially when considering the diet of transition cows. The high sugars in the micro-forages help stimulate dry matter intake, the feed balances dietary cation anion difference levels and helps with the negative energy balance going into lactation.
“In a study with Crosswind Jerseys, we noticed increased dry matter intake and rumination activity in the pre-partum period,” said Dr. Shawn Jenkins, research scientist at HydroGreen. “This resulted in similar responses postpartum, even though they weren’t being administered.”
The tour not only highlighted the health benefits for cattle but also numerous sustainable practices of the vertical growing system.
HydroGreen does not use pesticide, herbicide or fertilizer. The company relies on seeds, water and lighting to grow its forages. This allows for less required resources in the production of the product.  
“Our goal is to do this all in a sustainable manner at commercial scale with very significant and measurable impacts on the environment, whether we’re thinking about enteric methane emissions, feed efficiency, fiber digestibility or water,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ business uses 95% less water to grow fodder than would be used in conventional growing practices. A model such as this caters to drier climates where water is a limiting resource.
“Water access in this part of the country is less of an issue,” Schmidt said. “You go to west Texas, Arizona, California, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and it becomes a significant problem that we are hearing about more and more.”
The forage company’s focus on sustainability and strides in improved cow health and comfort signifies their progress on the plains.
“People have always fed forages to their animals, but we are bringing that production indoors,” Schmidt said. “We are giving farmers an opportunity to repurpose their land, decrease water usage and eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides in an economic way.”

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