Over the years food and feed production has changed significantly. The pursuit of a sustainable agriculture and to make food available to ever increasing world population is a huge challenge. This leads to increase in the feed cost and variations in the feed raw material availability for global feed industry. The feed represents up to 80% of the total cost of animal production, therefore feed formulation is one of the most important areas to focus. A deficiency and an excess of nutrients as a result of lower performance and/or higher costs, lead to economic losses. The nutritionists are more conscious about the necessity of better quality control practices. It is important to know both the nutritional composition and the cost of each raw material, as well to make least cost formulation using routine analysis of finished feeds
Historically, proximate analysis has been used for the estimation of the nutritional content of feedstuffs and complete feeds. Wet chemistry or routine analytical methods usually involve many steps, which have errors in them, that limits the precision of the method being used resulting in less accuracy. Hence, NIR Spectroscopy, an alternative and robust analytical tool, is adopted in modern and automated feed milling industry. NIR technology has improved significantly for last 50 years; the development in computing is the main reason for its acceptance and expansion within the global feed sector. Big databases and complex mathematical algorithms have allowed extracting much more comprehensive information from the NIR spectrum.
It cannot be forgotten that NIR is a secondary method of analysis, relying on the mathematical association between wet chemistry (primary method) analysis and a spectrum. With complex and highly variable natural products from all around the world, the ability to collect a representative set of samples to replicate the characteristic variability within the overall population (harvest year, varieties, geography, etc.) is highly necessary.
Advantages of Using NIR
1. Capable of providing accurate rapid analysis of samples
2. Non-destructive analysis, after analysis samples could still be used for other purposes
3. No need of toxic/corrosive and expensive chemicals and their disposal
4. Easy to analyze large numbers and heterogeneous samples
5. Multiple components of each sample can be determined from a single measurement of the sample’s spectrum, which reduces analytical cost per sample
It is beneficial when used wisely but also has some limitations like cost of instrumentation, its calibration (need to calibrate the instrument for each component and each type of ingredient), need to have fairly complex training and calibration procedures. Nonetheless success of NIR is dependent on instrument specification, modelling tools and the accuracy and variability of the laboratory analysis being studied.
NIR applications in the feed industry
Feed quality is very important and has a critical role on performance. Quality includes nutritional contents and hygiene parameters. Nutritional value is maintained by analyzing ingredients with conventional instruments which may have some fluctuations and result in nutrients variation in feed and performance is compromised. To reduce the chances of fluctuation in nutrient contents in finished feed, NIR is being used.
In the feed industry, NIR spectrometry can be used for a significant amount of different applications, from proximate to high quality analysis as amino acids or Non Starch Polysacchrides (NSPs). NIR is the best tool to predict animal performance and many calibrations for in vivo digestibility. NIR technology will help for economic feed formulation to reduce cost based on balanced nutrients especially energy (ME), protein (Amino Acid), minerals (Calcium & Phosphorus) which are the real drivers of feed formulation.
NIR can also measure a wide range of physical characteristics which make it a comprehensive tool for quality assessment. Some of these physical properties analysis are particle size, hardness and starch damage amongst others. NIR can be used to confirm the maturity stage of feedstuffs and its suitability for use in feed.
Mixer efficiency assessment is another area of application of NIR. A number of samples can be taken at the discharge point of a mixer machine for analysis of CV (Coefficient of variance). By calculating CV of the absorbance for each wavelength, the optimal mixing time for a finished feed can be calculated.
NIR can also be used to analyse some of the feed anti-nutrients like phytate. Phosphorus is the third most expensive feed raw material after energy and protein. Feed manufacturers are increasingly replacing added inorganic phosphates with phytases due to the high price of phosphate, environmental issues and the availability of more efficient enzyme products. As phytate found within raw materials can vary, it is complicated to estimate the total phytate content of a finished feed from published values. Many laboratory methods exist for phytate determination which are expensive and time- consuming, hence NIR can be an alternate real-time phytate analysis method.
Future of NIR
The manufacture of smaller, more robust, portable, low-priced equipment has been possible thanks to the latest developments in engineering. That allows a big advantages against laboratory-based systems as the analysis can be perform at the most convenient location, for example at the grain silo or feed mill intake.
Widely used in many other applications, these truly portable instruments are lightweight yet of extremely robust construction which can be found in multiple locations in a feed mill including raw material reception and product dispatch; which will allow accepting or rejecting products based on the NIR result. This would save unnecessary transportation of below specification material, and increase time efficiency. NlR could bridge the gap between advanced nutritional scientific knowledge generated and application to practical feed formulation and rationing. NlR technology is a reality which sufficiently proved its value as a powerful tool for multiple product constituent quality controls in different points at the feed industry and as an essential support for providing an integral advisory service to farmers.
by Mr. Alejandro Criado, AB Vista
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