A System to
Get Cows FIT
By Amy Spillman
April 18, 2002
Just how good is that grass? Farmers
in the future may be able to more accurately answer that question when it comes
to feeding their livestock, thanks to a Feed Information Technology (FIT)
expert system now being developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists in
The information provided by the FIT system could help farmers boost their
herds' productivity by fine-tuning animal rations. It could also benefit the
environment by reducing excess nutrients in animal manure.
Many variables affect the nutritional value of forage, including the
crops maturity at the time of cutting, how its preserved and how
its processed. The FIT expert system combines laboratory data about the
chemical composition of forage with information provided by the user, such as
the forages growing environment and its harvesting, processing and
Dairy scientist David Mertens and agricultural engineer Richard Muck, both
at ARS U.S. Dairy Forage Research
Center in Madison, have developed equations that describe how most of these
variables affect a crops nutritive value. However, the relationship
between a crops growing environment and the environments effects on
plant chemistry and animal absorption of plant nutrients is poorly understood.
For years, Pioneer Hi-Bred International
Inc. has collected extensive nutritional and yield information on corn
silage hybrids grown throughout the world. Under a cooperative research and
development agreement with ARS, Pioneer scientist Donald Sapienza is providing
ARS scientists with a five-year data set on several corn hybrids that were
grown on multiple sites throughout the United States. ARS, in turn, is working
with the Department of Soil Science at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison to
gather the daily weather and soil conditions for each site.
By integrating the information in these two databases, the researchers, led
by Mertens, will be able to identify, define and evaluate relationships between
a plants growing conditions and its nutritive value. They will then
incorporate this information into the FIT expert system.
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.