It’s cheaper than you might think.
The direct inputs are:

  • Barley: estimated at between $380 and $400 a tonne
  • Electricity: estimated at 23c per kwh
  • Labour: estimated at $20 per hour
  • Water: no notional cost applied (see below)*1

The cost per kilo of green feed produced is determined by a combination of the above factors and is weighted (affected) by:

  • The amount of green feed produced (in kgs) [a factor of both the quality of the seed used and the amount of seed placed in the tray]. We refer to this as the conversion factor. On a conservative basis this is 5 times the amount of grain put in the tray although we regularly get well over 6 times and as high as 7 times. In our test room if we get less than 6.5 times we are asking why.
  • It is possible to overload the tray with dry grain. More grain does not make more grass. If the grain is “choked” in the tray then it will not sprout. It will go soft, but that does not release the nutritional value of the grain. Only the complete enzyme cycle does that. The completion of that cycle is identified by sprouting. Further value is then added through the grass turning green (photosynthesis) completing the value changes from grain to grass.
  • A farm management decision as to whether the objective is to deliver higher nutrition to livestock or more mass (dry matter). As with all dry matter decisions, the supply of “bulk” is usually at the expense of nutrition, albeit that the level of that may be relatively small.
  • A further farm management decision as to whether to buy or lease a room. Outright purchase has a higher initial capital cost (whether that’s interest on a loan or a return on investment measure for personal capital input) but an overall lower cost per kilo of green feed produced. Conversely a lease has no capital cost but does have a monthly revenue cost (tax deductible though).
  • For the purpose of this exercise we have assumed an average between lease and capital costs to include a notional capital cost in the production cost. If you were to compare the cost of the annual production from a fodder room against other on or off farm alternatives you would need to include cropping costs, fertiliser, machinery (tractors, ploughs, discs, drills, power harrows, rollers etc) and a cost for land in which the production took place. In short either system (open pasture or the fodder system) has a capital cost; although the fodder room cost maybe less based upon its annualised production capability.

Taking all of the foregoing into account we have assessed that a kilo of green feed costs between $0.16  (direct costs) and $0.29 ( when lease cost is included) to produce.*2

*1A portion of the water that passes through the fodder room is not retained by the plants. The plants have different needs at different times of their short growing cycle. We have methods of reducing the amount of water the room requires but the trade off is a higher labour input. Currently we do not recycle our pass-through water and see no economic value in doing so as  the labour costs and additional capital costs associated with it do not at present warrant that investment. That said we are looking at water reduction processes at present as part of our ongoing research and development.

From our own test rooms and all fodder production we undertake (we are usually running a double bay rooms at any one time) we put our water onto our gardens or back onto pasture. There is considerable nutrient value in the used barley water, evidenced by the response from plants and vegetables in the garden and pasture in the paddocks. Given the chance, our dogs drink the barley water [mind you they will also eat stray shoots of fodder when we are taking it out of the rooms].

*2 Based upon a two bay room.