Granted, there will be some additional costs associated with the higher yielding varieties such as cost of seed, more fertilizer used because the yield is greater, more harvesting, hauling and labor expenses, but still these extra costs may only diminish the gross value by 10 – 20%. We are still looking at over $60,000 more by picking out the best alfalfa variety. Even if in the past you were fairly good at selecting some of the better alfalfa varieties, the difference between some of the good and the best varieties could mean $5,000 to $10,000 more on a 30-acre field over five years.
How do you select the best varieties? The MSU Forage Varietal Trial reports have information on alfalfa variety traits along with the un-biased, Michigan-specific trial data for alfalfa varieties from 37 different seed marketers across the Midwest. Start there and then talk to seed dealers determining your need for disease and insect resistance, and paying particular attention to longevity if your system requires it.
Dairy farms typically want alfalfa stands to last for 3 - 5 years where as livestock and hay cash crop farms want the stand to last for as long as it is profitable, usually 7 - 10 years or longer. Finally, and most importantly, look at the yield date of local, unbiased trials over time to see how they performed. Granted, the newest varieties will not have yield data available for at least three years, but unless you like to invest in commodity trading or at a casino, do not invest your entire forage seeding dollar in new varieties. Use some of the highest yielding tried and true varieties that meet farm goals, along with maybe a small portion being a sampling of a new, un-tested variety.
There is no foolproof system to select alfalfa or other forage legume or grass varieties. However, if you do your homework and consider analytical trial data in your selection process, the financial returns can be substantial for perennial forage crops.
For more information, contact Michigan State University Extension educators Kim Cassida at 517-355-0271 or at email@example.com; Phil Kaatz at 810-667-0341 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; or Jerry Lindquist at 231-832-6139 or at email@example.com.
Lindquist writes for Michigan State University Extension