Afgritech LLC

Revolutionizing the way the ag industry feeds dairy cows
Written by: 
Christine Fisher
Produced by: 
Drew Taylor

Innovation is a buzzword, but not all industries have been quick to jump on the innovation bandwagon. The “bypass protein products” (BPP) industry is one of them.

In fact, there haven’t been major changes in the BPP industry in nearly 30 years. That is, until recently when Afgritech LLC—a joint venture between Carrs Group PLC in the UK and Afgri Operations, LTD in South Africa—introduced major changes to the way BPP are manufactured. Now Afgritech’s product AminoMax® Pro is doing so well that, since opening in 2011, the company has expanded its facility four times.

Afgritech LLC

BPP are specially processed proteins added to the feed of dairy cows and other ruminants. BPP resist breakdown by bacteria in the rumen of these animals so the protein can pass into the animals’ small intestine where it is digested and absorbed by the animal, not the bacteria in its rumen.

BPP are not new. They have been around for decades and are typically made by putting protein—in Afgritech’s case soybean meal and canola meal—through the Maillard reaction. In this reaction, the soybean and canola meals are processed so that the natural sugars bind to the protein and create a bond bacteria in the rumen cannot break. Because the bacteria cannot digest these bound soybean and canola meal nutrients, more amino acids pass into the small intestine and are digested by the ruminant.

Afgritech still uses the Maillard reaction, but it has modified the standard process to have a tremendous impact on the final product.

“It’s the process that’s unique,” says Les Berghorn, general manager at Afgritech. “It’s not the science. Yes, everybody uses the Maillard reaction. That’s been around for 100 years and will be for the next 100 years, but it is the process of how we get there that makes us unique.”

Pioneers in canola and expander manufacturing

For starters, Afgritech is the only company globally that processes canola meal and soybean meal in its BPP.

When creating AminoMax®, Afgritech looks not just at protein levels, but at levels of amino acids, the smaller units that make up proteins. Soy is an excellent source of the amino acid lysine, and canola provides some of the amino acids that soy is lacking in, including histidine, methionine, cysteine and threonine.

Most BPP manufacturers cannot process canola meal in a way that makes enough of its nutrients available for digestion to use it in their blends, but Afgritech’s patented manufacturing process sends the soy and canola through unique manufacturing equipment, called an expander.

That expander is one piece of the puzzle that makes AminoMax® Pro so unique. While Afgritech’s competitors process their protein through expellers, which simply press plant-based protein sources like soybeans to extract their oils, Afgritech uses the expander to create more surface area on the product to make more of the nutrient available for digestion than the expeller does. Afgritech’s Watertown, New York, headquarters was the first plant worldwide to process plant-based BPP with this expander technology.

Sweetening the pot, speeding up the process

After the soy or canola passes through the expander, the Maillard reaction begins. To increase the effectiveness of the reaction, Afgritech adds a proprietary blend of enzymes. These convert complex internal sugars into simple sugars that are important to the Maillard reaction.

Afgritech is the only company globally that also adds external sugars to maximize the Maillard reaction to obtain their targeted BPP level. This allows Afgritech to cook their product for less time than its competitors do, which translates to more available nutrients since longer cook times tie up more nutrients.

Temperature and cook times are just two inputs Afgritech is able to control precisely through its completely automated manufacturing system, built with more than 400 sensors.

Through carefully automating temperature, water usage, motor speeds and more, Afgritech is able to make each batch of BPP as close to identical as possible.

“When you look at bypass protein, you want to be as consistent as possible because that’s what’s going to drive the performance of the dairy cow,” Berghorn says. “The more consistent you can keep that, the more consistent the cow’s output is, and again that equates back to a better return for the dairy farmer.”

Dairy farmers report AminoMax®  increases the amount of protein and fat produced in their milk, and Afgritech has validated AminoMax®  through studies by Cornell University and The William H. Miner Agriculture Research Institute.

“The research validates that we made more of the nutrients that exist in the canola and soybean meal available than conventional bypass protein processing,” Berghorn says.

The AminoMax® process has been proven to improve the amount of amino acid availability in canola meal and soy, allowing dairymen to reduce the crude protein necessary to obtain targeted production.

This is just the beginning for Afgritech. As the company looks to the future, Berghorn says, it will use its unique manufacturing process to improve the way other key nutrients are processed, all with the goal of obtaining highly consistent milk production and giving dairymen a better return on investment.