Getting the most pounds of beef per acre from your forage boils down to the following four basic characteristics, says Bill Seglar, veterinarian and nutritional services manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred International:

* grain yield,

* tonnage,

* proper maturity and agronomic strengths, and

* digestibility.

Always meeting these criteria however, is where the challenge hits home. Combining your specific feeding situation, geography, climate, harvesting and storage ability only adds to the equation.

"People used to select hybrids for tonnage rather than nutrient density," Seglar says. "We're now seeing a transition where people are selecting for silage quality and nutrients.

Learning how feedstuffs are digested has hastened this trend. Grain is generally digested quickly and fiber more slowly. This helps identify hybrids that better match nutritional needs.

"Knowing which feed source digests at which rate lets us capitalize on both by identifying hybrids with high grain content for fast digestion and those with high neutral detergent fiber (NDF). It lets us maximize the pounds of beef that can be generated from an acre of land relative to other hybrids," Seglar says.

He adds that high starch and high oil in corn silages offer advantages for beef production. Specifically, when these two traits are combined with a stover that has high digestibility, the forage will be an efficient one.

"We know that sugars, fructans and organic acids in the cell is of primary concern vs. true acid detergent fiber (ADF) and NDF," he says. "Research indicates that by the time NDF digestibility occurs, the forage is leaving the rumen and NDF digestion will be minimal."

What This Means If a forage is more energy dense than its predecessor, feeders can balance rations that are more cost effective. For example, the more starch you can get from silage, the less starch you'll have to add when formulating a ration.

Keith Bolsen, animal science professor at Kansas State University, always recommends running nutrient tests on forages to determine nutrition levels. Once you've got a handle on these values, you can better determine what if any changes need to be made with the next season's hybrids.

Is Biotech Here? When it comes to biotechnology, disease resistant traits like those in Bt corn enhance corn silage quality with higher yields. But biotech in the form of inserting nutritional traits isn't here - yet. What has been achieved with biotech can help guide your hybrid selection.

An initial benefit, Seglar says, is improved yield of higher quality forages. Secondly, herbicide resistant-hybrids expand crop management opportunities.

"We can't develop a hybrid based on the type of cattle being fed just yet," Seglar says. "However, we can advise hybrids to an area based on a feeder's needs for high starch, high oil or highly digestible NDF.

"All hybrids should always be positioned based on their adaptability to a given environment. Beyond relative maturity dates, a hybrid must be adaptable to the soil type, plant population and withstand disease pressures.

"Review your needs carefully, because all the technology in the world can't fix an incorrect hybrid selection," Seglar says.