Regular KnowHow readers will understand our enthusiasm for crimped grain based on feed quality, yield, impact on animal performance and costs relative to concentrate feed energy sources. But, as a reminder and for our newer friends, harvesting wheat or barley just as the main leaves are dying off (25-35% moisture content in grain), treating the crimped grain and chaff with a preservative and ensiling, produces a high energy (13MJ ME/kg DM) feed that can significantly reduce bought-in concentrates.
Financial benefits of crimping
Taking the crimping approach not only reduces bought-in feeds but also, compared to dried home-grown or urea-treated grain, animal intakes are higher and cattle growth rates improve (by 6% in Finnish studies), as do milk yields (one litre/cow/day from 38 to 39 litres in continental studies). At a time when input costs are rising and it looks like cost volatility is here to stay, this all adds up to improved resilience and profitability within the farm business.
Pressure to reduce carbon use
The pressure on food production systems to reduce carbon use is not going to go away, or be delayed, because of rising input costs. National governments are committed to reductions in carbon use in all sectors. Whilst we can hope that the pressure on this issue might back off as the current crisis continues and thoughts turn towards food security, carbon reduction targets will remain in some form and we will be expected to deliver.
What can crimping do for carbon footprints?
The answer to this question is very circumstantial. It depends on your system and how you bring in feed to supplement forage. But we know enough to provide some pointers.
Switching from grain drying to crimping – in carbon lifecycle analyses conducted by the Swedish Polytechnic in Finland and the Swedish University of Agriculture, drying grain from a 20% moisture content to preserve and store has the carbon equivalent cost (CO2e) of 39.1kg CO2e / tonne of grain. Taking the same grain and crimping it for preservation has the carbon cost of 11.9kg CO2e/ tonne.
The lifecycle analyses include the manufacture and delivery of all inputs to the two processes, the operation of the drying or crimping, and the disposal of waste (such as plastic sheeting from the crimped ensiled grain). The main reason for the big difference is the extra energy used in grain drying. And it is a big difference, but what does it mean to a system? For a beef finishing system based on silage and grain, the switch from drying to crimping can reduce the carbon footprint per kg of meat produced by about 0.1kg CO2e. This doesn’t sound like much, but it is 1.5% of a typical cereal/silage beef system and reducing carbon is a matter of accumulating small advantages.
Replacing some dairy concentrates with crimped grain – a tonne of bought-in dairy concentrate will typically have a carbon footprint of 1kg CO2e/kg product. If we are going to replace some of this, we must account for the carbon use in growing the grain as well as crimping it and AHDB (Cereals and Oilseeds) studies suggest a carbon cost of 360kg CO2e per tonne of grain. So, the carbon footprint of a kg of crimped grain is 0.37kg CO2e/kg product. The rest is just maths. If we can replace a half tonne of bought-in concentrate per cow per year with crimped grain, then we can reduce carbon use by 315kg CO2e per cow per year. For an 8,500-litre cow with an average carbon footprint of 1.25kg CO2e per kg of milk produced, that’s 2.5% of her carbon footprint reduced.
And that’s quite an impact for a relatively simple solution.