To satisfy increasing food and nutrient supply requirements for our growing future human population, farmers and staple food producers carry vital responsibilities. Especially farmers with ruminant livestock like dairy cows transform otherwise for human consumption unsuitable fibre into highly nutritious milk and meat. Nevertheless, dairy farmers are challenged increasingly by the consequences of global warming. Economic risks like feed supply and volatile commodity prices need to be balanced, also taking into account the increasing environmental awareness of end-customers. Focusing just on emissions, dairy production is contributing an essential part of the total carbon footprint emitted by the agricultural sector. Since rumen degradability of feed was identified by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations as one of the most influential parameters in reducing the carbon footprint of dairy farming, the desire to exploit leverage potential for efficiency increases can be considered exceptionally high. Although the positive effects of improved feed, in other words, neutral detergent fibre rumen degradability for dairy farming are well understood, detailed information on the correct management to obtain well digestible feed sources is still missing. Using the smart dairy nutrition ration formulation concept, applying readily on-farm available digitized data and management information the objectives of this study were: 1) to assess the influential parameters which govern neutral detergent fibre rumen degradability of corn silage, using a set of 584 corn silages from multiple years, and 2) to evaluate within an integrated dairy production set up the economic and ecological improvement potential by feeding a subset of 28 different corn silages, including detailed variety information. Results show that the neutral detergent fibre rumen degradability is primarily governed by variety choice and can be four times more important than the correct harvest stage decision. By feeding corn silage varieties with high neutral detergent fibre rumen degradability, monetary income could be increased by ~10% while simultaneously reducing manure accumulation.
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