How do I pick a good alfalfa variety?
There are a lot of choices out there. One of the most important decisions that you make is which variety to plant. When considering varieties, the following factors come into play:
- High yield potential: Forage yield drives the economics of alfalfa production. While it may appear that two varieties perform similarly, only a 1/10 ton lower yield per cutting can result in substantially lower profitability over the life of a stand.
- Disease resistance: Multiple disease resistance is an important risk management strategy. Many diseases do not affect the health of the alfalfa plant each year, but having disease resistance can prevent catastrophe and will likely show in large yield differences at least once during the life of the stand.
- Stand persistence/winter survival: Healthy alfalfa plants that persist throughout the productive life of the crop results in higher profitability. Stand persistence is often influenced by plant health, insect management, soil fertility, and climatic conditions.
- Other selection criteria: In addition to the aforementioned items, also consider factors such as forage quality, potato leafhopper resistance and maturity.
How about "cheap" alfalfa seed?
You get what you pay for. University trials have used Vernal alfalfa as a standard check variety for many years. Vernal has not performed nearly as well as varieties developed in recent years. Vernal may work well for a cutting or two when growing conditions are optimum, but when stress occurs, performance lags. In medium to high yield environments, Vernal comes in at 75 to 80 percent of top varieties. The cost of good seed quickly becomes a minor issue when evaluating production over the life of the stand. Some "cheap" alfalfa seed is really a blend of varieties.
Often in years of surplus seed production, several alfalfa varieties are blended together and sold as an unnamed seed blend. The blended seed varies by dealer and company. The problem is that you never know what genetics have been included and at what ratios. Therefore, it becomes a chance of getting good or poor quality alfalfa variety genetics in a blend.