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  1. Default Brix

    The Brix meter complements biological farming. If you look after your soil properly, (encourage soil activity like worms, microbes, nitrogen fixing plants etc), the grasses and crops growing in it will increase their Brix reading over time, and this indicates the total percent solids dissolved in the plant juice or sap is increasing = more sucrose, fructans, salts etc in the crop. The Brix readings should equate to QUALITY of the measured item.

    In the case of grasses, it is a guideline to the maturity, MJME and protein content of the grass. Google 'Brix' and 'biological farming' for a lot more detail. Private sector unpublished research shows strong links between improving the Brix of grasses and supplements for cows and ruminants, and their milk Brix or other outputs, and FARM PROFITS.

    Average ryegrass has a Brix value (sugar activity) of 2-6% in the morning, and it usually rises to a reading of 8%-13% or so in the afternoon on a sunny day. Cows and ruminants love higher-Brix forage mixtures, and their general health markedly improves when eating it.

  2. Default

    Novel Ways staff have recently carried out a small amount of scientific research into the use of Brix meters on grasses and legumes (not peer reviewed). The writeup for this work is available on our website here:


    We have not found any other Brix work for grasses published on the web.

    The results were significant: using careful procedures, a Brix average reading on various paddock samples on the same day and time period was strongly related to the average amount of sucrose (simple sugars) in the plant saps. Those paddock samples with the higher Brix readings would have been sweeter in taste.

    What does this mean for farming practice? We would expect that farmers would observe their stock preferring this higher-Brix feed, if they have a choice. They would tend to stop immediately on finding such feed, and begin cropping closely. Feed utilisation efficiency might improve as a result, with less grass getting trampled.

    Over time, animal health might improve. We think it's possible that ruminants might be able to convert more of the organic matter that they eat, when it is higher-Brix. The conversion efficiency of this process is normally anywhere from just 15% to 60%. Farmers that measure and try to improve Brix readings on their pasture often note that their stock have more solid movements, which could imply that their digestive systems are working more correctly.

    Unfortunately, we don't know of any scientific research which has tested any of these ideas.
    Last edited by Graham; 16th August 2009 at 07:48 PM.

  3. #3

    Default Pasture brix readings, why the controversy?

    BRIX (oBx) is a measurement of the dissolved sugar to water ratio of a liquid. (the standard is sucrose at reference temperature of 20oC). It is normally measured with a refractometer in oBx. A 25oBx solution is 25% (sw) or 25grams of sugar per 100grams of solution or 25 grams of sucrose and 75grams of water by weight per 100grams of solution. Where Brix is measured with solutions containing contaminants such as cell walls and non sugar molecules it is not strictly correct to refer to this as a true Brix reading, but as a refractometric dried substance (RDS) i.e. total dried solids. It gives an approximate measurement of sucrose and as most of the dried solids will probably be sucrose, to all intents and purposes will be accurate enough for farming purposes.
    Pasture in New Zealand is
    composed largely of perennial ryegrass and white clover.
    This assumes that heavy handed use of nitrate fertiliser hasn’t subdued the clover!
    There are other plant varieties used, but for the purpose of this discussion I will use ryegrass to illustrate the points made.
    We are aware that ryegrass is composed largely of sugars, CO2 fixation by photosynthesis provides two of the most important plant functions: -
    (a) Glucose based long chain polymers as cellulose in the plant cell walls. This is one of most important products of CO2 fixation, cellulose is the main support system, or the skeleton of the plant.
    (b) the individual cell contents, a jelly like substance called protoplasm which is divided into two major parts, the nucleus and the cytoplasm. Put simply the nucleus is essentially the information store and the cytoplasm is the chemical factory for the cell. Sucrose, the main energy store for the plant, is formed in the cytoplasm of the cell from glucose and fructose molecules. When this energy is required by the plant it is reconverted to glucose and fructose by enzyme action.
    In theory (b) should have the greatest appeal to cattle i.e. more palatable, equals more eaten, equals correct fertiliser regime, equals more production for the farmer. What it doesn’t show is that of the total sugars, how much is locked up in the cellulose and hemicellulose cell wall part of the plant, which has the lowest palatability and digestibility available to the cow. It is well known that cows eat the new growths first! Kids to lollies! Ruminants are designed to utilise cellulose, it doesn’t mean that they necessarily like it!
    Remember Brix is only one management tool available to farmers, it cannot be used in isolation. It doesn’t change the need for good management practices. We have a large amount of anecdotal evidence that Brix works on New Zealand farms, however this lacks verification! For some obscure reason the scientific community remains either quiet (perhaps if you ignore it will go away) or scathingly opposed to Brix,(another Greenies stunt) as a farming tool without doing the research What we need is, good, peer reviewed, scientific research to prove one way or the other that Brix has/or has not a place on the modern farm!

  4. Default

    Thanks for your contribution grassmaster..

    Novel Ways have sold quite a few brix meters to farmers over the last year, and would like to hear any feedback from their results.

    In the meantime, Dr Doug Edmeades (AgKnowledge) intends to write an article about Brix measurements on grass, and this should appear on his website at some stage. We'll try and post a copy back here. He's using our writeup as one of the source materials.

    We have also discussed Brix readings with forage experts at nearby DairyNZ, without too much interest at this stage. But if anything, it's becoming more likely that some research work will be done in future. There are other ways of measuring brix in materials: near infrared (NIR) instruments can be quite accurate and will also measure pH, digestibility, etc. But some handheld units of this type are $30,000 each.

  5. #5

    Default Brix

    I've been taking brix readings since 2003. Mostly on my small holding where I keep an eye on the stock. When they are sitting down, I'm happy. When they are standing, it's time they were moved. They grow like mushrooms. I don't drench or use any other nasties.

    My brix is around 13. High brix will mean stock will eat less DM, not more, as it is more filling. Just like food used to be. Being a small block I only fertilise once a year. I'll get a reading from my high N neighbour soon & post it.

    Little or no N is used. I used 9kg N last March, nothing prior to that, nothing since. (What a waste of money.) Clover content is 30% min. (Up to 60% around January.) No problem with bloat, FE, insects or anything else. The neighbour does have those problems & he used 235kg N last year & 191kg N the year before.

    Interestingly, my soil N is 324kg/ha. That is in the high bracket. (no reading for neighbours). My leaf N is 4.3%, (mid range) his is 2.7% (low). My August 2009 growth was 62kg/ha/day. His was 35kg/ha/day.

    Healthy plants emit frequencies that at least do not attract and perhaps repel insects, and unhealthy plants emit higher frequencies that attract insects. In other words the plant tells the insect to eat it when it is not healthy. It seems 12 brix is the min. at which insects & diseases will not affect a crop. However, some protection may be afforded even at 8% on a rising plane of nutrition.

    Insects and humans have extremely different digestive systems. It is ludicrous to even think that we share food with insects. However, it is so common now, we don't give it a second thought. The insect is the winner, so what are we? (No prizes for guessing.)

    Insects avoid high sugar concentrations. (Complex sugars ferment in the insects stomach and the alcohol kills them.) Butterflies, bees etc appreciate high sugar in flowers. Less than brix 7 means the bee spends more energy than it is worth to extract the nectar and process it. Even at 7 it is of doubtful benefit. Below 7 it will not even be attracted to the flower.

    Lower sugar (brix) in the maize leads to more stalk rot & lodging. I grew a maize crop biologically & it yielded 6% more than ever before & 13% greater than the previous year. Lodging was certainly reduced to almost nil. Brix was around 8%, so there was plenty of improvement to go. The area was 120ha.

    Two biological farms I measured the milk at 10. One organic one was 8, but we noticed some issues when that farm was inspected. The biology had been closed down by the use of the plough and it hadn't yet recovered.

    If sugar levels decrease, (they should increase in the course of a day), that could indicate a phosphorus problem. If the weeds test higher than the pasture, that is a P problem. Usually the available P is too low in relation to the K which is too high. This could be a typical NZ scenario.

    If the demarcation line on the refractometer is sharp, the probability is low calcium; if it is fuzzy or diffused, acid is low & calcium will be higher.

    If you use potassium chloride, your brix will drop 2 points. The answer is very simple. Don't use it under any circumstances for agricultural purposes.

    Fruit & Veg
    Ever risk a speeding ticket going home from the supermarket? The veggies go off that quickly, it's almost compulsory. Not so with high brix fruit & veg. Properly grown food tends not to rot, but it will dehydrate. Do you believe you can keep a picked cabbage for six months & it's still good? You can if you grow them properly.

    Have you heard that Carey Reams, in Florida, entered a water melon in the county fair, not once, not twice, but three times? That is, the same melon grown properly lasted for two years.

    Have you noticed when you eat sweetcorn, that it shows up in the toilet bowl? Go to the sewerage works & have a look around there. Peas & carrots will be added to the list. The veggies are not digested properly because they are not grown properly. Grow your own with compost & you will have properly digested food. The brix on this food is a lot higher than in the supermarket food. I recall testing supermarket lettuce and getting 1.5%. 4 is poor, 10 is excellent. By the way you don't see my seetcorn again. It's all digested.

    A student in California correlated lab Phosporus grape leaf test analyses with brix.

    Results were 0.1-1.0% P during the growing season. If P fell below 0.35%, the brix could not get to 12%. If 0.4-0.6%, the readings were 13-14% while grapes were filling. (Under stress.)

    Magnesium in the leaf was best kept at 0.4-0.5% with an absolute minimum of 0.3%. P could be 0.33% and brix would stay above 12%.

    If you do get above 12 brix & have insect problems, it will be because your calcium is too low. It needs to be a min. of 60% on the base saturation, but 68% is better. The yanks measure it as 2,000lbs/acre min.

    I feel like I've been hit by brix.
    Good night.
    Brett Petersen

  6. Default

    Brett, welcome to the forum and thanks for your input

    There haven't been that many farmers in NZ using a Brix meter on grass since 2003, so you'll have a lot of good information for this thread. It looks like your block has responded really well to biological farming.

    I have a few questions, if you don't mind.

    1. When, and how exactly, do you take Brix readings on grass? We've noticed at work that the technique and timing is very important, so it would be good if there is a common reading standard.

    2. Do you measure one particular species of grass or legume, or a sample of the whole paddock?

    3. What has been the general nutrient treatment for your farm(s) to get these results, has it been expensive or time consuming? Can the system be applied to a larger farm?

    4. I've seen some tables for Brix levels in various fruit and vegetables, but very little for grasses (not our ones anyway). Do you have any of these?

    5. Do you have many results for Brix of milk compared to the Brix of the fodder for the cows in the 48 hours before? (One of our customers is already noting higher milk output after high-brix grass is fed, and only feeds maize silage if the Brix is lower, to even out production). Not bad for a cheap tool..

    6. You mentioned higher sugar plant sap will deter insects, I've read this before, will try and locate scientific evidence. Do you have any?

    7. You state plants of high and low Brix give off different frequencies (or levels of emanations) and low brix plants attracting insects because of this. I've read the anecdotal evidence (two crops of same strain side by side etc) and would be very pleased to see research evidence. Is this in the visible, UV or IR area? It's not a scent difference is it? Related to the sugar content?

    There was a short article on TVNZ news on 29th September, Massey University is starting some research into biological farming techniques. I missed it, but apparently the research lead is Nicole Schon. This is good news too

    Here's the item, not a massive study at the moment..


    The above link might have lapsed, here's a list of the researchers in a Scoop article recently. 10-30% grass production improvement from worm introduction to low-activity soils? That's interesting.

    Last edited by Graham; 10th October 2009 at 05:30 PM. Reason: To add new links

  7. #7

    Default High sugar grass, what is it? Why the controversy? What does it mean for dairy cows?

    What is high sugar grass?
    First of all what is grass? It is not intended to go into a long winded scientific treatise on the subject, ‘Google’ will give an adequate cover of this! Suffice it to say that all grass species, especially those used as pasture in the New Zealand system of farming, are a natural feed stuff for herbivores, especially ruminants. Their growth pattern is unique in that the leaves grow from a crown at ground level allowing the leaves to be removed and as long as the crown is not damaged new leaves will grow. This of course assumes that all other plant requirements are met i.e. adequate water, sufficient nutrition, sunlight and that plants are not overgrazed by poor management practises to the point where the growing crown is damaged! Cows are not designed to eat clods of mud, in spite of what may be seen on some dairy farms!
    Although basically any grass species can have the level of its water soluble carbohydrates (sugar) enhanced, perennial ryegrass including its various cultivars will be used to illustrate the points of interest in this discussion.
    A definition and a distinction between the three basic methods are as follows:-

    (1) Perennial Ryegrass genetically modified.
    (2) Perennial Ryegrass bred to enhance the natural sugars.
    (3) Perennial Ryegrass biologically enhanced.

    Because of the unfortunate negative connotation put on anything genetically modified, number one will probably remain as an item of academic interest in the foreseeable future! Although don’t write it off.
    Number two is at the moment the most viable system, with scientists and plant breeders putting a lot of money into, if you believe the advertising, what they claim are the most suitable cultivars for New Zealand conditions! Protecting their patch? The ‘AberDart’ controversy is a case in point. With scientists taking sides, who knows?
    Number three is the most controversial! This is where scientists and farmers differ dramatically. Any farmer who dares to state that a certain regime has increased his milk solids and financial returns tends to be labelled ‘Green’ and his claims are written off as anecdotal. The catch cry from the scientific fraternity is where is the proof and the paper written up in a peer reviewed reputable journal? This is as it should be, up to a point. Have any of these critics ever looked into the claims made by farmers regarding gains made in production?
    There is the usual problem with ‘Way out Claims’ made by people with a particular agenda, if their system is so good why aren’t they making millions on their own farm?
    So what is High Sugar Grass ‘HSG’? You are probably aware that grass is largely composed of various ‘Sugars’ and their chemical derivatives manufactured during the process of photosynthesis. ‘Photosynthesis as defined by Wilkins 1988 is the process by which plants capture and package the energy in the sun’s rays. Further:- ‘It can be transported around the plant, to be released when and where it is required to do useful work, like driving chemical reactions. In practise, this involves storing the energy in chemical molecules that are stable, but that can, in the presence of appropriate enzymes, be broken down to release the energy they contain. It is also the means whereby the plant acquires, from the air, the carbon atoms that are the principal components of the molecules that make up its body.
    Photosynthesis can be summarised as a chemical reaction in which carbon dioxide from the air and water, react to produce carbohydrate (sugar and starch) and oxygen according to the general equation:
    CO2+H2O -------------- [CH2O]+O2
    It must be remembered, however, that this is only part of the story, mixing carbon dioxide and water together doesn’t cause a suitable reaction, it requires light and chlorophyll in the green pigment of the leaf to complete’.
    So where does the extra sugar in high sugar ryegrass come from? We can’t increase the sunlight available to the plant! We are supposedly increasing the carbon dioxide available (global warming and greenhouse gasses) in spite of this a normal plant can only produce and store a set amount of carbohydrate. What effect farm management practices i.e. Biological farming has on increasing water soluble carbohydrates is a moot point! Have they changed the sunlight available? ‘No’ Have they changed the carbon dioxide? No more than any other farmer. They may have changed the water and nutrients available to the grass roots by improving the soil conditions! This would still have to be proven! What other farming practises have they changed? This leaves us with plants with a natural high sugar content. Overseas researchers such as ‘IGER’ ( Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research) in the United Kingdom have bred cultivars from naturally occurring high sugar ryegrass specimens from alpine areas in Europe.( see Moorby 2001). Do we assume that the New Zealand bred equivalents have originated from a similar type already present in New Zealand?
    There is still doubt in scientific circles regarding the benefits of HSG. An article written by Jacqueline Rowarth, in the spring 2007 issue of ‘Grasslands News’ pages 3- 4, sets out rather succinctly the problems surrounding the controversy over the use of grass bred with a higher water soluble carbohydrate level. This controversy has unfortunately led to sides being taken over the suitability of various cultivars for New Zealand conditions. Vis-à-vis Dr. Jock Allison’s defence of the AberHSG system in rebuttal to a section in ‘Pasture and Forage Plants for New Zealand’ by Drs. Deric Charlton and Alan Stewart published by NZGA in October 2006. As Dr. Rowarth rightly points out at the end of her article: - ‘More Research is Needed. It Always Is’.
    Is HSG more palatable to ruminants? We don’t know for sure, there are conflicting opinions, we can’t ask the cow! We could conduct field trials, unfortunately nobody appears ready to spend the money! Does it improve the ratio between grass derived nitrogen (as protein) and the soluble carbohydrates, in other words by increasing the percentage of sugar in relationship to protein in feedstuff does this in fact decrease the losses of nitrogen to the atmosphere (ammonia and nitrous oxide) and water (nitrate) to the soil? see Richard Dewhurst’s paper ‘Manipulating cow diets to reduce nutrient wastage to the environment.’(which is available on the internet) setting out the problems. This should be read in its entirety, it is one of the better explanations I have seen.
    If all farmers became ‘Eco-friendly’ over night, would it make much difference to greenhouse gas emissions? The proponents of biological farming would have us believe yes! Is it not time for scientists to conduct trials into the usefulness of these alternatives instead of just writing the claims off as some form of ‘snake oil science’ not worthy of comment? They might just learn something useful!
    Assuming that a farmer is convinced that a high sugar ryegrass cultivar is the right system for his farm, how does he monitor the sugar content? Expensive laboratory testing, milk solid returns from his dairy company printout, or is there a place for the brix meter with its proponents and exponents about evenly divided! Is it not time that its usefulness as a farming tool was genuinely tested? Not written off as a useless gimmick, as has been done in some circles!
    What fertiliser regime is recommended? To get the proposed benefits, it would appear that any of the quick fix, immediate return high nitrogen based fertilisers would be out! Urea is a relatively slow release nitrogen source and although its use would be curtailed it may still have a place. What about more natural fertilisers? Is there a genuine basis for the claims made by the proponents of biological farming? Shouldn’t they be put to the test? There may be some really useful ideas in organic farming! It can’t hurt to find out.
    Although Nick Smith (see article The New Zealand Farmers Weekly page 15 December 2009) as minister, has put the damper on carbon credit trading for farmers in the near future, should we not be at least planning ahead for when and if it does become a viable option? How are you going to provide a quantifiable carbon sink on your farm? If we plant clover or other legumes with rye grass to provide a useful alternative source of nitrate, what effect does this have on the ratio between carbohydrates and protein in the ruminant digestion? Are we not too dependant on rye grass? Should we be looking more closely at alternative plant species i.e. chicory, plantains, even some of the more drought resistant Mediterranean species, Australian species? Plants with anthelmintic properties to overcome at least some of the drug resistance in ruminant parasite species?
    What do you think should be done? Push your farm advisor and ask questions at farmers field days! Nobody knows all the answers. Let us know on this Blog site! Who knows you could end up with a winner! Look at all the alternatives, don’t slavishly follow the herd!

    Literature Cited.

    Dewhurst, R. Agriculture and Life Sciences Division, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand. Posted on the Internet, no date given.

    McNicholas, M. 2009. Not ready for carbon farms. The New Zealand Farmers Weekly. Vol.8, 48, 15.

    Rowarth, J. 2007. HSG: the discussion continues. Grassland News. New Zealand Grassland Assoc. published on the Internet. P 3-4.

    Wilkins, M. 1988. Plantwatching: How plants live, feel and work. Macmillan. London. 207pp.

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