The effect of 14 microbial inoculants on the fermentation and nutritive value of alfalfa silages was studied under laboratory conditions. The first cut (477 g of dry matter/kg) and second cut (393 g of dry matter/kg) of a second-year alfalfa stand were ensiled in 2 trials. In both trials alfalfa was harvested with standard field equipment. All inoculants were applied at 1.0 x 10(6) cfu/g of crop. Uninoculated silages served as controls. After inoculants were added, the chopped forages were ensiled in 1.0-and 0.5-L anaerobic glass jars, respectively, at a density of 500 g/L. Each trial had 15 treatments (uninoculated control and 14 inoculants), with 4 silos per treatment. Silos were stored for a minimum of 30 d at room temperature (similar to 22 degrees C). In first-cut silage, all inoculants but one reduced pH relative to the uninoculated control, and all but 2 of the homofermentative strains shifted fermentation toward lactic acid. In second-cut silage, the epiphytic lactic acid bacterial population was 2.7 x 10(7) cfu/g, and only commercial inoculants produced significant shifts in fermentation. Overall, microbial inoculants generally had a positive effect on alfalfa silage characteristics in terms of lower pH and shifting fermentation toward lactic acid with homofermentative lactic acid bacteria or toward acetic acid with heterofermentative lactic acid bacteria, Lactobacillus buchneri. These effects were stronger in the commercial products tested. In spite of the positive effects on silage fermentation, 48-h in vitro true DM digestibility was not improved by inoculation with lactic acid bacteria.