Tightening global supplies of soya and grain coupled with large purchases by China have driven soya prices up to a margin-compromising point, and there is every chance the peak prices are set to continue for the remainder of the winter feeding season and even beyond.

According to a report from Alltech, the high prices look set to continue. UK spot prices recently hit a wincing £450 per tonne delivered — about £50 per tonne up on prices pre-Christmas — bringing into question the return on investment of feeding soya to drive production profitability.

China is demanding around 60% of global production. It seeks to rebuild its swine herd post-African Swine Fever (ASF) and is also experiencing low grain inventories after a year of severe flooding.

The US has experienced a poor growing season and is falling short of demand, so will very likely hold onto their limited supplies. These factors, coupled with uncertainties arising from global politics and the pandemic, make for a ‘perfect storm’ that gives us reason to believe soya prices will remain high and volatile.

Building on these economic challenges, Alltech sees growing pressure to source a more environmentally friendly protein feed.

In ruminant production systems, 75-95% of dietary nitrogen is excreted in urine or manure; a common cause being fluctuating ammonia levels in the rumen.

Excess levels are both wasteful and potentially toxic, as they can lead to elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels and, subsequently, milk urea nitrogen (MUN) levels. On the other hand, when there is a deficit of rumen ammonia for a considerable amount of time, the rumen bacteria do not have access to this food source required for growth. As a result, productivity slows down.

Ensuring cows get the most out of the protein they consume is an essential step in overcoming this agri-food sustainability challenge.

The good news is that there are short-term steps that farmers can take to help reduce waste, lower purchase costs and even move away from soya on a more permanent basis:

1. Assess the quality and return of the current protein and explore alternative sources.

2. Get a feed analysis and explore reducing the protein content of diets fed to lower yielders.

3. Ensure precision feeding, incorporating the exact ingredient amounts prescribed.

4. Feed a live yeast such as Alltech’s Yea-Sacc® to encourage digestion in the rumen and optimise feed efficiency.

5. Introduce Alltech’s Optigen® as a highly effective protein source that also facilitates better utilisation of homegrown forages.

Looking longer-term, producers can increase natural protein levels in homegrown forage through clover grass and sulphur fertiliser. Clover is a legume that can ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen into a crude protein, while sulphur is essential for forming plant proteins and amino acids.

The features and benefits of Optigen:

The Carbon Trust has validated that the replacement of high-carbon ingredients (such as soya) with Optigen significantly reduces the risk of a high carbon footprint, without affecting (and in some cases, positively affecting) animal performance.

Features Benefits

Microscopic particles of non-protein nitrogen (NPN) embedded throughout the fat matrix. A controlled release of NPN to the rumen over time, meaning the nitrogen needs of rumen microbes are met more effectively. This leads to more efficient use of dietary nitrogen.

A high protein density (100 grams of Optigen is equivalent to 750 grams soya).

Makes space for other ingredients such as fibre, energy and homegrown forage in the ration for cows to consume.

A soluble crude protein consistent in size, composition and physical form. Promotes fibre digestion in the rumen and helps increase butterfat percentage.

Provided in 25kg bags within three working days of ordering. A quick introduction and ease of use and storage.