Groundnuts (photo on Flickr by Stephen Eustace).
Jerome Bossuet, of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in Pantancheru, India, has an interesting article in the New Agriculturist last month about fodder innovations helping Indian dairy farmers.
Feed matters are big matters in this intensive dairy-producing country, because ‘Feed represents around 70 per cent of the cost of milk production . . . .’ But with most farm plots now too small to sustain both fodder and food crops and with areas of common grazing lands shrinking, milk prices have been rising.
Research groups are coming to the rescue by developing ‘dual-purpose’ varieties of sorghum, millet, pigeonpea and groundnut whose straw, leaves and stalks that remain after the grain or legume has been harvested are of higher-than-normal quality for feeding to farm animals and whose yields of grain for human consumption are also good.
‘Crop residues . . . are already an important source of fodder in India, providing more than 40 per cent of the available dry matter for feeding livestock; some experts estimate this could rise to 70 per cent by 2020. But residues, especially from cereals, are often of low nutritional quality, which affects the productivity of cattle and buffalo.’
The new dual-purpose crops manage to produce both high grain yields for people and nutritionally rich residues for their animal stock.
‘Anantapur district, in Andhra Pradesh, is a key groundnut producing region and also one of the most drought-prone areas in India. Seventy per cent of the agricultural land is planted with groundnut, supporting over 300,000 smallholders, therefore crop residues are mainly composed of groundnut stems, known as haulm. “Groundnut haulm’s energy and protein content, and its palatability and digestibility can vary significantly from one variety to another,” says Dr Michael Blummel, a scientist from the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
‘In 2002, ICRISAT introduced an early maturing, high yield and drought-tolerant groundnut variety (ICGV91114), which produced 15 per cent higher pod yields, 17 per cent more haulm and better quality fodder than the locally grown variety. After giving their cows and buffalo the improved fodder, dairy farmers noticed an immediate impact as their milk production increased by 11 per cent.
‘A recent participatory feeding trial found that 400 ml of extra milk was produced daily by animals that had been fed the improved variety. A separate impact study by ILRI also estimated that during the main growing season, adopters would earn about 48,000 rupees per hectare (US$970 from sales of groundnuts and milk)—four times more than from growing the local variety. . . .
‘Dual-purpose crops have also created new value chains for the animal feed sector. In Hyderabad, for example, sorghum stover-based feed blocks are being marketed by animal feed companies. One block feeds one dairy animal per day, ensuring a production level of eight to 12 litres of milk per day compared to an average of three to four. Traders are therefore beginning to pay sorghum farmers a premium for their crop residues.
‘Following on from ILRI and ICRISAT’s innovative crop breeding research, the IFAD-supported MilkIT project, led by ILRI, aims to improve access to animal feed for poor dairy farmers in India and Tanzania by using dual-purpose crops. The ILRI and ICRISAT researchers, and members of the CGIAR’s Systemwide Livestock Program, are also transferring the dual-purpose crop breeding approach to African countries, through improved sorghum varieties. They are also studying the trade-offs when crop residues are used to feed animals, including the consequences for soil fertility. . . .’
Read the whole article at the New Agriculturist: Fodder innovations to help Indian dairy farmers, Mar 2012.