The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy granted Dairy Herd Management access to the beta version of Farm Smart™, testing it on the dairy where we reside in Minnesota. The potential behind the software’s power was evident early.

It took just minutes to set up an account. The first page required information regarding herd size, acres farmed, milk produced, our cooperative, and selecting a farm closest to our size as a starting point. Since we have about 200 cows in Minnesota, we were provided options of 100, 500 and 1,000-cow farms in the state as templates. We chose the 100-cow farm.

Next, we entered information on feed (tons, price and dry matter of haylage and corn silage) and energy (annual electricity costs). Since we use baleage and no haylage, the feed portion was an issue for us, but we approximated a converted number.

Invest your time to find your next investment

Using the Minnesota template designated to our farm, the program instantly estimated our practices and areas for improvement. It immediately provided an estimated current cost, both in terms of environmental and financial factors relating to our practices. For example, within the big number for corn silage’s yearly costs were over 50 line items where we could zero-in on our own practices.

We started with corn silage because we were in the midst of harvest as this article was written, and do not have haylage. We took our practices from this year and added the possibility of one extreme for each item to see what the changes would do to our financial (in dollars) and environmental (in pounds of greenhouse gas) impact (see Table).

While the models are still being developed, we identified opportunities to gain and lose money at harvest. The round number for our corn silage costs was about what we figured on paper, and our harvest costs fell in line, so we looked into them deeper.

We grew BMR corn this year, which was not an option in the current model, but obviously has different implications on costs and our carbon footprint.

However, when looking at chopping corn two inches lower (6 inches vs. 8 inches since we have BMR) than we currently were, we would lose $81 and 726 pounds of greenhouse gas per year according to the model. To show an extreme difference, we moved cut height from 8 inches to 17. At a 17-inch cut height, we would lose $6,131 over current practices, plus emit 54,935 pounds of extra greenhouse gas.

On the other hand, had we put our silage into bags, chopped at 50°F instead of 60°F, and chopped at 62% instead of 68% moisture, we would have saved $168, total, per year.

The problem, in the early stages of development at least, is that Farm Smart could have helped us more if it told us what options it considered optimum, instead of us changing the parameters and continually guessing.

Resources a-plenty

In addition to being a business tool to analyze changing practices, getting our current practices entered into the Farm Smart™ system would help figure our farm’s total environmental footprint. The number of GHG emissions in CO2 per pound of milk was quickly calculated for our farm, including all production, energy, feed, crop and manure practices, in the “my footprint” tab. But in this early stage, we do not know whether that number is good or bad.

Corn silage yearly expense estimates from FarmSmart 2.0

 

Current

Alternative

Current

Alternative

Practice

cost

cost

GHG

GHG

Harvest (total)

$1,993

$592

17,861

5,303

Cut height

 $1,110

$1,110

9,942

9,942

Chopping

$474

(-$81)

4,244

-726

Respiration (filling)

$5

(-$15)

46

-135

Spillage

$405

(-$422)

3,628

-3,777

Read the full article, "Dairy Rocket Science in your back pocket," online (click here). This article was originally printed in our November 2014 issue of Dairy Herd Management, read the entire issue when it is available, here: Dairy Herd Management issues online.