With so many choices available today, how can you decide which forage inoculants, if any, are right for your operation? Some inoculants can aid in fermentation and others are specifically designed to improve aerobic stability. Learning to identify the best inoculants for your operation can be tricky. So, before making a purchase, here are some things to keep in mind.

John Anderson, Mycogen Seeds forage nutritionist, says an inoculant shouldn’t be used as a “quick fix” to make up for mistakes in harvesting or storage. But when used properly, these products can help ensure that the forage that comes from your field maintains its quality through feedout.

Silage inoculants work by adding Lactobacillus-producing bacteria to fresh silage to accelerate the acid production needed to preserve the silage. Silage treated with inoculants stabilizes faster and will maintain higher amounts of nutrients.

Identifying your specific needs can help determine which type of inoculant will work best for you. For example, inoculants that aid in fermentation usually contain lactic-acid-producing bacteria and are used primarily on low dry-matter forage crops like grass and alfalfa. Materials like corn silage and cereal grains are more prone to aerobic spoilage and may benefit from inoculants designed to improve stability. Proper use of inoculants can prevent loss of dry matter and energy, and may extend bunk life and enhance animal performance.

Once you’ve determined the best type of inoculant for your operation, what’s next? Anderson says it’s vital to choose an inoculant with a proven track record.

“Before making a purchase, do your research. Buy from a company that can provide accurate data about how its inoculants perform. A company that produces effective inoculants will have independent research to back up its claims,” Anderson says. “There are different strains of bacteria that companies promote. Some may be worth the benefits and others may not, so do your homework.”

It’s also important to determine if the product is manufactured to high quality control standards. Is the product packaged in a way that will prevent exposure from moisture, heat and air? Inoculants contain live bacteria that can lose their viability if not handled and stored properly.

Next, make sure to carefully read the label. Bob Charley, forage products manager for Lallemand Animal Nutrition, says inoculant labeling varies greatly and can make comparing products a challenge.

“Look for specific information about the number and kind of bacteria, application rate, storage instructions and weight. If you’re unsure of how to interpret the information, don’t be afraid to ask the salesperson for help,” he says.

Does price matter? Most inoculants for corn silage run between 40 cents to $1.50 per ton applied.

“Keep in mind, however, that price isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality,” Charley says. That’s another reason why doing research before you buy is so important.

Both Anderson and Charley agree that inoculants can be good management tools when used hand in hand with other best management practices. Taking all of this information into consideration before making a purchase is a step in the right direction.