In this article, associate NIR network administrator Cassy Streeter from Dairy One explains how NIR analysis has helped reduce turnaround time on lab results. In a time where customers’ are increasingly demanding less expensive analyses and a broader variety of parameters and feed types, NIR is helping to increase business potential.
By Cassy Streeter, Dairy One
One of the keys to the success of Dairy One as a leader in the forage analysis industry has been turnaround time. The speed at which forage and feeds are utilized in rations is dependent upon how fast results can find their way into the hands of customers. Producers are unable to negotiate the sale of their crops until they know the quality of the product they are selling. Nutritionists cannot formulate rations without first knowing the composition of the individual feeds to be utilized. Turnaround time is so important that it came a close second to accuracy when Dairy One customers were polled on the most important factors of forage analysis. Fortunately, near infrared reflectance (NIR) technology has provided Dairy One with an invaluable tool that provides accurate results with minimal turnaround time.
From wet chemistry to NIR
Traditional wet chemistry has been the standard for forage analysis since its inception. However, a typical forage/feed sample requesting a full analysis panel could take up to a week to complete. In addition to the poor turnaround time, some wet chemistry analyses require the use of hazardous chemicals that require careful handling, storage and disposal.
In order to avoid the pitfalls of wet chemistry analysis, Dairy One began developing NIR calibrations for a core set of parameters including moisture, crude protein and fibers in the early 1980s to cover a small range of forage types. This core set continued to expand over the years to include a majority of the wet chemistry analyses offered by Dairy One such as fat, ash, starch and macro minerals.
Today, the forage sample that used to take up to a week to analyze could be received in the morning and the customer would have results for more than twenty nutrients by that afternoon. This reduction in turnaround time helped drive customer demand for NIR services and prompted a move towards adding more parameters and feed types.
With feed prices on the rise, customers started looking for more low cost feed alternatives and, in turn, less expensive feed analysis. More and more feed mills began taking in shipments of commodities and, with those shipments, rapid analysis was needed. Based on the success of the calibrations for common forages, Dairy One started looking into developing calibrations for commodities. In January 2013, Dairy One released its new Commodity NIR package which includes moisture, crude protein, soluble protein, fibers, fat, ash and macro minerals for products as diverse as beet pulp, corn gluten meal and soybeans.
Large scale testing
Another advantage that sprang from NIR services is its utilization by research groups. Institutions carrying out large scale testing on new crops could now submit several hundred samples at once and receive their results in a fraction of the time (and a fraction of the price) it would take to do the analyses by traditional wet chemistry. Consistency was also improved since different batches of samples were not analyzed with different batches of chemicals. The same calibration, based on thousands of samples over a large span of time, could be used for all of the samples.
Wet chemistry will always be a necessary component of forage analysis, especially as new commodities and feed sources are utilized, but the value of NIR cannot be understated. Customer demand for rapid and reliable forage and feed analysis helped drive the development of Dairy One’s robust stable of NIR calibrations. Dairy One is confident that industry demands will continue to be met as these calibrations expand and adapt in the coming years.
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