Rehab saline seeps with new alfalfa

Tim Bernston, Buffalo, N.D., is rehabbing saline soils on his farm using alfalfa — and he has high hopes that he’ll be able to increase production even more with a new salt-tolerant alfalfa from Dairyland Seed.

Bernston is currently able to produce 3 to 4 tons of alfalfa per acre off saline areas where soybeans produce little or nothing. He grows alfalfa on saline soils for three to four years and then plants back to corn, followed by soybeans.

Key Points

Alfalfa can grow in saline seep areas where soybeans won’t.

Alfalfa uses up extra soil moisture and lowers the water table.

A new salt-tolerant variety may grow even better in seep areas.

Bernston sells the alfalfa to a neighbor who has cattle. The neighbor cuts and bales the alfalfa himself and pays Bernston about $35 per ton for the alfalfa. Alfalfa seed generally costs Bernston about $50 per acre.

Crops after the alfalfa do well because the alfalfa lowers the water table and opens up the soil so the water can move back down through the profile. Alfalfa also adds nitrogen to the soil and improves the soil’s biological health.

It works like tile

Bernston likens the effect alfalfa has on the soil to drain tile. “If you can’t tile, planting alfalfa is a good alternative,” he says.

Bernston, who is a Dairyland Seed dealer, says his rehabbing efforts will likely get a boost with introduction of Magnum Salt, a new salt-tolerant alfalfa from Dairyland Seed. The new variety’s parent plants were selected from plants that grew vigorously even in the saline seep soils on Bernston’s and other farmers’ land in the Buffalo area.

Magnum Salt has a branching root trait that helps it grow in heavy or wet soils. It also has an erect growth habit, which results in plants remaining upright in dense stands.

Where it is especially tough to get soybeans to grow, Bernston is thinking about rotating corn and Magnum Salt alfalfa after the initial rehab period.

“Maybe I could grow two years of alfalfa, followed by two or three years of corn and then go back to alfalfa,” he says.


SEEP SOLUTION: Tim Bernston finds a new salt-tolerant alfalfa variety thriving in a saline seep where usually nothing grows.

This article published in the November, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.