24 November 1995

TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE BACK

For the first time the UKASTA list of forage additives includes three different approval categories, including approval based on animal performance data.

Prof Mike Wilkinson of

De Montfort University comments on the list

The new UKASTA list of approved forage additives contains few surprises. All the well-established products have achieved approval in Category A – animal performance. Farmers using these products can rest assured that there is at least a reasonable chance that if they decide to spend money on a Category A additive, it is likely to be repaid in improved utilisation of their treated silage by their livestock.

The total number of products listed this year is only 109 – well down on the totals listed in previous farmers weekly guides to forage additives. The decrease in the number of products listed in the different categories – inoculants, enzymes, acids, salts, sugars and absorbents – is similar, apart from the number of enzyme products which has remained virtually the same as in 1994.

Just over 40% of all the products listed has been approved in Category A – a surprisingly high proportion, which does little to help farmers in choosing which additive to buy. However, only one enzyme product out of a total of seven has been approved in Category A.

There should be no additive that shows an improvement in animal performance (Category A) that does not also show an improvement in Categories B (digestion and intake) and C (fermentation). Likewise, those that show an improvement in Category B should also show an improvement in A.

Of the 36 products not approved in any category, nine are designed specifically for use with maize, and six are designed specifically for baled and bagged silage. Most of these additives are new to the market.

This situation is similar to that of a year ago, which suggests that either the manufacturers and distributors of these products have had difficulty obtaining approval, or that they havent bothered to do so. Ten of these products have no data submitted for evaluation. It is too early to say whether this indicates apathy or a long delay between product launch and submission of the necessary data.

It is an expensive business to produce data for approval, especially for Category A. Of the products listed as not approved, most are distributed by small companies which indicates that perhaps they cannot afford to sponsor the research needed to achieve approval. The scheme may stifle innovation if some of these products are actually better than others which have been approved. We may never know the true picture because discerning farmers will not purchase unapproved products, and these products may be driven off the market as a result.

Even more serious is the prospect that some manufacturers may decide not to develop a new product to the point of launching it on the UK market, because without approval it may be doomed from the outset.

The UKASTA scheme to date may be judged as two steps forwards, one step backwards. I look forward now to the next stage – monitoring efficacy – to check that approved products purchased by farmers are actually the same as those with which the original data was generated. It will be interesting to see when, and how, the procedures and the results of the checks are presented to farmers.

&#8226 Prof Mike Wilkinson is now the head of the School of Agriculture and Horticulture at De Montfort University, Lincoln. &#42

Prof Mike Wilkinson: "Some small companies cannot afford to sponsor the research needed to achieve approval…"