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We could tell you a lot of things.

We could tell you that we developed;

the first commercial variety with Phytophthora resistance

the first and only Traffic Tested varieties
the only varieties with high resistance to Phoma crown rot
the first and only patented salt tolerant varieties

Or, we could tell you that these new genetics will be available soon;
the first Traffic Tolerant variety with nonselective herbicide tolerance
and the first nutritionally dense alfalfa variety
But, we think it would be a whole lot more interesting to let one of our customers tell you about their haying operation and
their results with our genetics.

The Rice Brothers Wilsonville, NE

When theyre not busy raising dairy quality hay, Scott and Steve Rice are
muscling a 1999 Peterbilt loaded with 3 x 4 x 8 bales from their farm near
Wilsonville, Neb., to customers in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
We have about a dozen dairy customers, who take 75 percent of all the dairy
hay we can raise, says Scott, who, with his brother, produces 550 acres of

Delivering our own hay is a great marketing tool, because it gives us an opportunity to be standing right there to meet our
customers when they unload their delivery.
The Rice brothers began their transition from corn and soybeans to alfalfa in 1997, on the recommendation of a neighbor.
They quickly discovered that raising high quality dairy hay could be considerably more profitable than row crops.
In a good year, we can gross $800 to $900 an acre from our alfalfa, says Steve. Its pretty tough to match that with corn or
soybeans under the best of conditions. Scott and Steve Rice, who are members of the Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing
Association, couldnt ask for a better climate to raise dairy quality hay than southwestern Nebraskas Republican River Basin.
Long growing seasons here assure four alfalfa cuttings and sometimes a fifth. In most cases, says Steve, quality increases
with each successive cutting. While the first cutting is sold locally as grinder hay that may bring $45 to $65 a ton, most of their
remaining cuttings are harvested and sold to the dairy market.
Hay has to test at least 150 Relative Feed Value to appeal to the dairy market, says Scott. We shoot for an RFV of 180,
which is the easiest thing in the world to sell to a dairy producer. Dairy hay with an RFV of 150 to 180 will bring anywhere
between $110 and $130 a ton. And when we get into our fourth and fifth cutting crops, you can see the RFV really start to
Weve had fourth and fifth cuttings that tested as high as 290 and 309 RFV, adds Steve. Thats what we call our candy
crop almost all leaves, with very little stem. Although we price our dairy hay based on the RFV content, its impossible to
put a price on that kind of quality. So we just offer our super premium cuttings to our regular customers for $145 a ton.
To get top quality, You also have to cut your hay right at the bud stage, which means you have to be willing to give up some
tonnage for quality, says Steve. You need to count on an alfalfa variety that can give you big yields and high quality. You
cant expect a common variety to produce the same quality as a premium variety.
Five years ago, their search for a high-yielding, high-quality alfalfa variety led the Rice brothers to plant 50 acres to a new
variety called AmeriStand 403T. The first Traffic Tested alfalfa, AmeriStand 403T had just topped the trials in University
Yield Under Traffic studies.
AmeriStand 403T is the best combination of tonnage and quality weve found, says Steve. It has excellent hardiness. The
yields are exceptional. And we havent found anything else that can match it for quality. Two years ago, the first field of
AmeriStand 403T we planted averaged 8.16 tons per acre over five cuttings, with an RFV that averaged 30 points better than
any other variety on the farm.

Scott and Steve say AmeriStand 403T has also earned its reputation as
a Traffic Tested alfalfa. We drive a lot of heavy equipment over our hay
fields, says Steve. We load 3 x 4 x 8 square bales right out of the
field, and when the semi is loaded it can weigh as much as 85,000
pounds. When other varieties start to regrow, you can see right where
those wheel tracks went. But you cant even see the wheel tracks when
the AmeriStand 403T starts putting on regrowth.

We think AmeriStand 403T produces bigger crowns than other

varieties, and it puts down a deep root system. I dug down in one
of our newer fields last year and the roots were already down a
good 4 feet. And thats in a nice flat, irrigated field where the
roots dont have to go that deep for water. We expect to see the
real payoff after the fifth year, when a normal variety hits the tail
end of its stand life, adds Scott. We figure it costs us $150 an
acre to establish an alfalfa stand, so if we can pull an extra
couple of years out of a field of AmeriStand 403T, and average 5
tons or better in the sixth and seventh years, thats pure profit.
The Rice Brothers planted another 60 acres to AmeriStand 403T in 2002, and an additional 115 acres last spring. They intend
to put in another 100 acres this season. Scott says theyre planning to pump effluent from a neighbors hog farm through a
center pivot system on that field. Manure tolerance studies conducted by the USDA-ARS in Minnesota have shown that
AmeriStand 403T handles midseason applications of liquid manure with bigger yields and longer stand life than other
conventional varieties.
Last spring, Scott and Steve Rice put their combine up for sale. We may still rotate our alfalfa fields into a year of soybeans,
but well hire a neighbor to harvest the beans for us, Scott concludes. Our dad was a row crop farmer. We raise alfalfa.

Welcome to Alfalfa Production 101


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
I am delighted you have joined us for this new adventure
in the use of our Web Site: www.americasalfalfa.com. In
this series, I am going to be as brief and straightforward
as possible as I attempt to take you through the basic
steps to be successful and happy that you have decided
to grow alfalfa which is undoubtedly the best, highest
yielding forage crop known to mankind.
While recommendations are based on valid research
many sources, mostly from the University research
locations around the USA, they are not confined there.

I have found that over the past 60 odd years of working with this crop in every conceivable
system, research really comes alive when it is practiced and made valid by farmers. So what I will
attempt to unravel will be a combination of research and practical on-farm based experiences.
This course will deal with at least 40 subjects. I will do my best to make each one brief and to the
point. I will throw in warnings to alert you to reasons that ordinarily cause new plantings to fail and
how to avoid these failures. I will also harp on high yields and persistence and what to look for in
selecting varieties for your farm out of the some 300 that are currently on the market. I will not
touch seed blends for most of the time; we have no idea what varieties are included in these
blends so we cannot predict how they will perform for anyone.
I will not pull punches. I have seen failures most often when farmers repealed too many laws of

nature. I will deal with such troubling matters as seeding on poorly drained soils, limed so near to
seeding that the soil pH will not be modified adequately before seeding. In all too many instances,
the plantings are delayed and plant growth is thwarted due to cold weather, dry conditions, or
early weed intrusion. Also, one of the greatest faults is burying the seed. Then we will hit on
fertilizing for top yields, fall and winter management, and weed control on established stands,
evaluating present stands, using and miss-using animal manures, and harvest schedules.
So stay with me in this course. I hope you like and profit what from you read and apply on your
own farm.

Growing Alfalfa Successfully


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
Eleven Tips to Establish and Use a Successful
Alfalfa Planting
Plant on well-drained soils. If you have it, brown or
brownish red soils are good signs you are on the right
track. Hardpan or soggy soil is no place for alfalfa.
The soil pH must be 6.2 or above at seeding. A
lower pH soil test just ahead of intended seeding
needs to be treated for next years seeding plans: To
amend a low pH takes 6-12 months.

Elevate P and K, (phosphate and potash) to soil test recommendations.

Do not bury the seed. Usually, to inch depth is right on most soils. Can be up to inch
depth on sandy soils.
A firm seedbed helps to place the seed at the correct depth and holds moisture for more uniform
early plant growth. (You cant beat a cultipaker).
Seeding Time: Spring: As soon as the frost is out of the ground
Fall: At least 6 weeks ahead of the historic freeze date.
Seeding Rate: 15-20 pounds per acre nationwide but generally 20-30% higher in the South and
far West.
Variety selection: Study the technology brochure that is available to you that is free for the
asking. If you are planning to graze, be sure to use a variety that is verified to be grazing tolerant.
Nearly all of the Americas Alfalfa varieties are developed under intensive grazing conditions.
Mechanical traffic and manure resistance has been added to varieties in recent years. Five of our
more famous and successful varieties for most of the USA are: AmeriStand 403T, AmeriGraze
401+Z, Alfagraze. In the South there are AmeriGraze 702 (south east) and AmeriGraze 701
(south west) and AmeriGraze 201+Z (north).
Seeding with a companion (nurse) crop? Only when erosion hazard is great without it and
when you feel you need the cover to help control early weed invasion.
Seeding No-till? Study our no-till brochure that is free for the asking. No-till is a great way to
save soil and time in seedbed preparation and to get excellent stands when the prescription is
followed; no shortcuts allowed!
Harvest first crop, first year at early to mid-bloom. Mechanical harvests can follow at 30-35 day
intervals. Second and subsequent years, the harvest intervals can be reduced 2 to 5 days to
increase quality depending on moisture and soil fertility. A same schedule is a good guide when

grazing. Be warned however, even though many of the newer varieties will survive with more
frequent harvests, (including grazing) shorter recovery periods result in lower yields while gaining
Note: The above listing of tips is about as simple as it gets! For more details, move your cursor in our web site to the subject that
most concerns you.

Before You Seed Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Alfalfa is the highest yielding, highest quality, perennial

legume grown in America, (or any other country where it
is adapted). Since starting and growing alfalfa requires so
many specifics, very often many folks fail the first time
around. First timers in particular often miss the simple
imperatives including timing and as a result wind up with
undesirable and often poor performing stands of alfalfa.
Lets see about plugging some of these gaps.

When seeding a field of alfalfa you are making a commitment of these acres to a four to five year
crop. A crop that will, in all likelihood, be the most profitable crop on your farm. A crop that should
yield 4-5 tons per year over 4-5 years. With hay selling at 80$ to 100$ per ton thats $1600 to
$2500 an acre over the 5 year life span of the crop. If the alfalfa is grazed, you should expect to
produce 1.8 to 2.6 pounds of daily gain for the duration of the grazing season on stocker beef
cattle and returns can be higher, perhaps double the hay returns. In the case of the dairy herd,
grazing can replace all or most of the forage during the growing season and in this case the
returns can be even greater than beef cattle. So plan carefully and keep on schedule.
* When using a field that has never produced successful alfalfa to your knowledge, get a soils
map from your local NRCS office. The local technician in that office will usually have a map of
your farm and can show you the soil type in a particular field and if the area is well drained so that
the roots can penetrate freely without obstructions to water and fertility resources. The map will
also show the erosion potential and when and what grasses should be included with the alfalfa to
control erosion.
* Get your soil tested. Your local county agent can guide you. In some cases, fertilizer and
limestone dealers have soil testing services available and welcome this chance to be of service.
Your number one priority is pH. Should the pH be below 6.2 you would be better off to pick
another field for this years planting and use a field where the pH is 6.5 or above. Then apply lime
to the original field for planting to another crop and alfalfa another year. After 12-18 months to
another crop, it should be ready for alfalfa.

Phosphate and potash are primary fertilizer needs in alfalfa. Initially, the soil tests will
guide you to the amount needed for planting and early production. Annual yields, the
residual amount in the soil, and how the forage is used (hay, silage, or grazing) will
determine the amount of each that will be needed each year as top dressing for top
performance and stand durability.
A few guidelines: A ton of hay contains about 10-12 pounds of phosphate, 45-60 pounds
of potash, and 100 pounds of limestone equivalent. So you might say that a five ton per
acre hay yield would need 50-60 pounds of phosphate, 240-300 pounds of potash and
500 pounds of usable limestone. This formula is not far off but it may vary depending on
the resources in the soil. Annual or biannual tests will help guide these needs.

* When grazing, top dress fertilizing is another matter especially when the growers follow a rigid
rotation grazing system. After about two years of intensive grazing in this system, farmers are
finding through soil testing that the fertility levels are maintained with reduced or eliminated

chemical fertilizers. Why? Since nothing is removed from these fields but milk, bone, and meat
tissue, over 90% of the fertility as manure droppings is recycled. The secret is good distribution of
the manure.
* Seed alfalfa on the recommended schedule. In the spring, seed early to get the new crop up and
growing well ahead of grass and weeds. In the fall, the plants need 5-6 weeks of good growing
weather to establish and grow before harsh winter weather stops growth and be strong enough to
resist stand killing root and crown diseases.
* Control perennial weeds before seeding. Weeds such as thistle and dock are almost impossible
to eliminate from an alfalfa stand. So cruise your fields closely well ahead of seeding time. It could
be that if the weeds are prominent and thick, you would be wise to take another year to clean the
field before seeding alfalfa.
Summary: For most folks, basic planning goes a long way to spell success with establishing and
maintaining great alfalfa stands. Really, there are no substitutes only supplements for this crop
when it comes to forage yield and quality thus animal performance and profits per acre over a
period of several years.

Selecting the Right Soils for Top Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Alfalfa is a perennial legume. Once seeded, the plants

regenerate growth from a crown and root system rather
than depending on seed for continued production. As a
legume, it is able to produce its own source of nitrogen for
growth. In addition to the production of nitrogen for its own
growth, it accumulates residual nitrogen for use by
subsequent crops and for use by non-nitrogen producing
plants such as grasses when they are grown together.

It has a vigorous taproot that has been known to grow 30 feet deep. Road builders, when cutting
a new road through an old alfalfa field many years ago in Kansas, found alfalfa roots to 30 feet
deep and beyond. I have traced alfalfa roots in the loess soils of the Eastern Coastal plains and
the lower-mid plains states to 6-7 feet deep in new road cuts.
Does this mean that the only soils that are fit to grow alfalfa should be that deep? Of course not
but the fact remains that the deeper the soil is to an obstruction such as solid rock or a hardpan,
the better the chance it will endure and produce well. Soil color is not always the total answer but
it is a start. A brown to red or black soil that is not subject to flooding and/or retaining surface
water for rather long periods is a step in the right direction.
I have also seen alfalfa die in two years or even less when it was seeded on wet-natured soils
that do not drain well internally. I have seen one, two, three year old stands heave or spew out
of the ground in the early springtime after a period of frequent freeze-thaw conditions on these
soils. If you want top yields and persistence, seed your alfalfa on soils that are well drained
The best way to determine soil quality and adaptability to alfalfa is a soils map. These maps are
usually available in every county in the USA. If you dont have a soils map, call and talk with your
County Agent or your local NRCS technician to see what it takes to get this done and do it! While
you are talking with your County Agent, ask him about soil testing and go ahead and get that
done well before planting to direct you to the current and long time needs for lime and fertilizer

Soil Testing is Serious Business


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
When you plan to seed a field of alfalfa or top-dress an established field, always to pull soil test to
check on pH, phosphate and potash needs. Timing is extremely important especially when it
comes to pH. Applied limestone will not change the pH overnight for it takes 12-18 months to
elevate a pH level one full point (6.0 to 7.0). Most professionals and experienced farmers like to
have the pH at 6.5 and above at alfalfa planting time. Phosphate and potash can be applied for
new plantings anytime up to and including seeding time. Most farmers apply these at or just
before the seed goes in the ground especially when you are using a starter fertilizer containing
20-30 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
What is the best time to top-dress fertilize established fields? More producers, nation wide are
changing from spring to late-fall applications each year. Mainly, its a matter of convenience, the
soil is drier and usually fertilizer prices are lower and the nutrients you really need are ordinarily
more available. Also some very reliable studies have shown that fall applications helps winter
survival with very little if any loss of nutrients unless by soil erosion. Also, growers have found that
this early treatment helps to get the crop off to a great start in the spring.
Taking soil samples does require some thought and
planning. Heres the way I like to see it done when
you are dealing with a multi-acreage planting. Pull
at least one soil sample from each acre (two or
more is better) and mix these sub-samples to
make the composite sample for the area. If there
are multiple soil types in the field, better make two
or more tests, dividing them by soil type. If the field
has been combined with another field, keep the
sub-samples and the composite sample separate.
After mixing the sub-samples, use about a pint of
soil and label it for your records and the records of
the laboratory. If you have doubts as to where to
deliver the sample, call your County Agent or your
fertilizer dealer.
Remember, you are going to use a very small amount of soil that is going to represent 435,600
square feet, 4-6 inches deep (for 10 acres). Besides, you are committing this property to several
years of production and a sizable investment in time and money. So take your time to be sure
what you deliver to the laboratory is an accurate representation of the soils you are committing to
this very important crop. The success you will have with your alfalfa crop can certainly depend on

Control Perennial Weeds Before Seeding



Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa

Production 101

I wonder how many times have I have seen what I

thought was a beautiful field of alfalfa from a distance. But
on close examination, I find to my disgust and the
growers disappointment, a lot of seedling weeds just
emerging. In many of these cases, the weeds are
perennial and we know there are problems ahead. The
population could crowd early alfalfa and are sure to
reduce the quality of the hay or grazing forage in the

These weeds, especially the broadleaf weeds are almost impossible to control once the alfalfa is
up and going. For the most part, the same herbicides that kill broadleaf weeds will also kill alfalfa.
In that case, the only option for control is mowing.
In conventional seeding operations, controlling these weeds becomes a more simplified process
so long as the problem is anticipated by past history of the field. In recent years, an increasing
number of farmers are seeding alfalfa no-till either following row crops or into cool season grass
pastures. Unless measures to control seed production of these weeds well ahead of seeding and
measures are used to bring them under control, forget it. A little later, we will get into no-till
seeding more and try to lead you in the right direction when you do seed this way.
Some examples of tough weeds to control are dock, horse nettle, and the various thistles. There
are others that may be native to your area and many are termed biennials. They are tough to
control as well after seeding. How do you control them ahead of seeding? It could mean the
delaying the planting for a year of row cropping and tillage. In any case, I am going to suggest
that you contact your County Agent or your Extension Weeds Specialists at your University to get
specific recommendations for your situation if you are especially concerned about hard to control
weeds that are native to your farm. The reason I do this is two fold: I cannot possibly keep up with
the recommendations in all states and recommendations do change when new herbicides are
released. Just be warned, if you have the weeds before you plant, the contamination will get
worse, not better.
Dont overlook pre-emergence sprays as a possibility. The materials that are usually
recommended in this program often cause early stunting but the plants usually grow out of this
with time. There are two maybe three chemicals that will work for you for control of annual
In recent years, annual grassy-weed control such as crabgrass, fall panicum, and foxtails have
become a lot easier to control with the release of some fantastic herbicides. These are applied
directly to the newly seeded or even established stands of alfalfa. Your County Agent has your
states recommendations. The best weed control however is diagnosis and prevention before
planting. Clean up before the alfalfa comes up!

Using Manure on Alfalfa


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
For most farmers, especially dairy farmers, animal manure can be a blessing or a tragedy in the
making. Manure, as a source of both fertility (nutrients especially nitrogen, phosphorus and
potassium) and organic matter is a fantastic resource. Some of the methods of using manure to
its best advantage is the area that I will deal with in this abbreviated form. So let me assure you
that I will not cover all of the bases. Should you want more information, contact your county
agent or your soils or forage specialist at your university.
How and where are the best places to use manure in alfalfa production?
1. In the crop rotation, especially with grain crops mainly corn is by far the best place to use
manure for the best returns. If the manure is stored so that there is little weather related nutrient
losses, you can expect a 1300-1400 pound cow to produce about 200 pounds of actual nitrogen
of which about 40% will be available nitrogen. Phosphorus production is about 48 pounds per
cow of which 60% or 30 pounds are available. Potassium production in manure is in the ballpark
of 180 pounds per cow total of which 70% is available to crops. Another way to look at it is that
the amount of nutrients in 10 tons of solid waste or 3000 gallons of liquid manure. Of course,
these vary somewhat, but this is a listing of numbers that seem to be average. Ten tons of
manure from the dairy herd contains about 40 pounds of commercial nitrogen equivalent, 12
pounds of phosphate, and 56 pounds of potash. Check with you fertilizer dealer to see the price
he charges for chemical sources of these nutrients and you can put a price tag on your manure
piles. No question about it, manure is one heck of a source of nutrients that when accumulated
and used wisely, can greatly reduce any commercial fertilizer bill plus the bonus of organic
matter for maintaining and building soil structure.

2. Top-dress pasture fields that are basically grass. Especially those grass fields that will
eventually go back into the crop rotation system. Even in these fields, applications exceeding 10
tons of solid waste or 3000 gallons of liquid manure are not recommended otherwise expect
some plant burn or even plant suffocation.
3. About using manure on alfalfa. Over a decade ago, a very detailed longtime on-farm study
was conducted in Pennsylvania to find the pieces to the puzzle that were essential in producing
consistent high yielding alfalfa. In this study they found that manure usually complicated
production and very often reduced the life span and crop yields when it was used as a top
dressing. Yet, when manure was applied before seeding, it became a very essential element in
elevating yields and persistence.
4. When there is no recourse but to spread some of the manure back in alfalfa fields I always
advise that you top dress fields that are likely to be going out of production soon and back into
grain rotation. Fields that thinning and are over-run with grass or weeds is a good place to start.
If you have no other place to use the manure and you find that you have to apply it on splendid
fields, first be aware of the environmental rules and follow them to the letter. Then if you have
done this, apply the manure immediately after harvest when possible. Application in a two to five
day window is essential and always when the soil is firm to help reduce stand and yield losses.
When spreading solid waste, be sure to adjust the beaters to break large manure chunks that
are sure to smother plants and result in a poor distribution plan.

Dont let this happen to you!

5. As stated before, spread manure when the soil is firm. Otherwise, you can expect some long
lasting soil and plant damage. Americas Alfalfa has already released a patented manure tolerant
variety (AmeriStand 403T) that will stand up under more punishment than any other varieties yet
tested. But dont expect these features to overcome severe conditions and become your license
to abuse soil and plants under terribly wet soggy, rut making conditions.
Yes, manure is a fantastic home grown fertilizer and organic matter resource. But when it
comes to using it in the alfalfa production system, apply it where it will become a great asset, not
a problem, in your farming program.

Winter Alfalfa Management

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

When is it safe to take a fall/winter alfalfa harvest without causing irreparable damage to the crop
in years to come? This question comes up under many and varied situations such as the big
dollar value for cash-hay or the weather report looks favorable for good hay making conditions. It
could be that there is a shortage of hay due to a dry summer or overstocking. Situations like
these and others occur nearly every year so lets see if I can help unscramble this situation.
The biggest threat to harvesting hay in the fall is drying conditions. The long time problem is

much more complex. In the fall and early winter, it takes time to build food reserves in the roots
and crowns of the plants to produce healthy plants that survive the winter and continue to
produce for years to come. When alfalfa is harvested inside the six weeks window, the plants do
not have sufficient time to build the reserves. This weakens the plants and they never seem to
Once growth is terminated and that takes about two
days of 24-26 degrees (F) for two consecutive nights to
shut the plant down, it is safe to harvest. After wilt
(usually 2-4 days) it is safe to harvest and when
harvest is made before massive leaf drop, the feed is
equal to the harvest quality prior to wilt and leaf drop.
(See photo to the right)

In several tests around the USA, we have found that the following years yield is normally reduced
equal to the weight of forage removed during the fall harvest. But most farmers are willing to take
that chance when the price is high and/or the needs great.
So here is the recommendation that I have lived with for years: If you seriously need the feed this
winter, go ahead and harvest this fall following the above schedule. Keep in mind that the
likelihood of ideal hay curing conditions during this period is poor at best. Actually, silage is a
better bet since dry-down time is cut in half or more.
If you are growing the grazing tolerant varieties, grazing can be a best bet for this harvest. Just
keep in mind that if you do graze the alfalfa at this season, bloat can be a problem. So follow the
same guidelines of grazing entry that are standard for the rest of the season. Besides, at this
period, cattle are likely going to be hungry for some fresh grazing and are very likely to over-eat.
If there ever was a good time for free access to dry hay and Poloxolene (Bloat Guard) this is it.
Should you graze mechanical harvest-only varieties, you better pull the animals when the soils
are even the least bit wet and treading damage is likely to occur. Also on these varieties,
(especially in the colder-climate areas), be sure to leave some excess crop residue to help resist
ice-damage and smothering.
Our Americas Alfalfa harvest tolerant varieties are performing quite well in abusive treatments
and splendidly under ideal conditions. These varieties include AmeriGraze 210+Z, AmeriGraze
401+Z, AmeriStand 403T, Alfagraze and AmeriGraze 701. Why? These varieties store more
carbohydrates and produce more crown buds late in the season. But for goodness-sakes, dont
try to kill them by abusive treatments. Next years yield will be lowered and if you thin some
areas, weeds can become a real problem next summer.
Leave some stubble for winter protection. In the areas north of I-40, to I-70, leave 4-6 inches of
stubble. Further north, stubble height of 6-8 inches is better. In the southern regions, leave a fourinch residue for quick spring growth even though winter damage is usually no big issue.
Fall/winter is a great season to apply top-dress fertilizers. There was a time when it was thought
that fall applied potash would leach during the winter months. On very sandy soils, this has been
confirmed in recent years. But even on these soils, leaching losses are minor compared to the
importance of getting the fertilizer on at this season to improve winter survival and following
years production. Besides, applying at this time is usually more convenient and less damaging to
plants and soils.
Fertilizer prices are usually lower and more accessible in the fall and winter. Also, spreader trucks
and fertilizer buggies are more likely to be available. What fertilizers should you use? Go to your
most recent soil tests to find the ratio recommended for each field and you decide what the
production you want and fertilize accordingly. The key fertilizers are phosphate and potash and a
maintained pH level of 6.5 and above. Where pH has been a problem, an annual application of
Boron is nearly always recommended. In some areas, sulfur and magnesium are routinely
recommended. Since alfalfa produces its own nitrogen, seldom (if ever) is nitrogen needed as
part of the top dress program.

Autotoxicity in AlfalfaWhat it is, and How it Affects Alfalfa.

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

As reported by Dr. John Jennings and associates at the

University of Missouri in 2000, autotoxicity in alfalfa is
an allelopathy. The allelopathy was first described and
reported by E.L. Rice in the 2nd edition of the
Academic Press Inc. in 1984. The malady is best
described as the direct or indirect harmful (or
beneficial) effect of one plant on another through the
production of chemical compounds that escape into the
environment. In alfalfa production, this means that old
(living) alfalfa plants or residual litter from old plants
can (and usually do) destroy or greatly reduce the vigor
of new alfalfa plants.
The infection system kicks in as mature leaves drop and new seedlings attempt to emerge
through this infected shield. It is in this situation that new emerging seedings are killed or
suppressed severely when growers attempt to re-seed to thicken failing older alfalfa stands. This
is also the situation that causes stand failure and lower yielding less persistent stands when
following older alfalfa stands immediately with new alfalfa plantings without intervening row crops.
It is simply a matter of the residue from the older plants contaminating (infecting) new plants.
When you plant corn for instance, you are diluting the polluting affects that carry over from the old
alfalfa. What is the old saying, the best solution to pollution is dilution?
The first time that I heard about this problem of following alfalfa with alfalfa was in the fall of 1939!
My major professor Dr. E. N. Fergus announced one cold November day in a forage crops course
he was teaching that included a study of alfalfa production and management; Gentlemen, you
cannot follow alfalfa immediately with alfalfa and produce successful and enduring alfalfa stands.
Immediately, hands shot up and asked, why and whats the problem? I will never forget the gist
of his reply; we really dont know what the problem is. Just take my word for it and someday,
someone will identify the problem and give us some usable answers.
He was right. We have discovered why alfalfa does not grow well when following and old alfalfa
stand. But to date, as far as I know, no one has identified the chemical other than it is an
allelopathy and some of the more important factors that tell the whole story. Our current
professionals know that the major problem comes mainly from deteriorating leaf (and stem) mass
that accumulates in the soil surface and ultimately works its way into parts of the soil profile.
How to deal with Autotoxicity:
The best system we know of about to establish a great new, productive alfalfa stand following
alfalfa is to completely destroy the old alfalfa stand (best to plow if possible) and plant the land to
corn. Two years in corn is better than one year. In most alfalfa producing areas, (especially in the
Midwest, Southeast, and Eastern states), erosion can be a problem. I suggest you seed the land
after row crop harvest to winter small grains. This cover crop will help reduce erosion, provide
excellent soil cover and in many years may produce another grain or forage crop.
With the introduction of specialized chemicals and equipment to replace plowing, no-till crop
production is increasing in much of the country. When growers are into this system, eliminating all
of the old alfalfa becomes quite a chore and unless all of the old plants are killed/ removed,
autotoxicity becomes a continuing factor.
Since Roundup (Glyphosate) came on the scene, farmers in many areas have used it with
varying degrees of success as a substitute for plowing. With herbicides, their best successes
have continued to be when growing corn before making the new seeding. Folks who have been
most successful with this system have sprayed with Roundup and possibly Gramoxone found it
best to spray before planting the second year to be sure they kill the more hardy surviving plants
and persisting weeds.
A Summary: I have attempted to un-complicate very complex malady that occurs in alfalfa.
Frankly, I feel that this malady is more of a threat to the expansion and use of alfalfa than any

unsolved mystery associated with alfalfa. Researchers have been studying autotoxicity for over
30 years and studies will continue until better answers are available. Basically, I like to think of
this malady as a disease of association meaning the closer a young alfalfa plant is to an older
living alfalfa plant or is growing in undisturbed yet decaying aftermath of older alfalfa stands the
better its chance of infection. Should infected plants survive, they will not live to a ripe old age
and forage yields will be less than if the stand had been established in rotated soil conditions. To
get around this problem, remove the infection potential before seeding and I advise that you avoid
quick fixes you may have heard about as they usually fizzle.
Even though autoxicity is with us and will likely be a malady that we will be dealing with for
several years to come, all is not lost and there is an upside to it. Alfalfa is a great nitrogen-fixing
legume. When the land is rotated regularly, growers are able to harvest the accumulated
nitrogen to elevate grain yields. This accumulation range can vary from 100 and 150 pounds per
acre when the alfalfa stand is over two years old and this organic form of nitrogen can be figured
into the base recommendations for attaining best grain or grain silage yields.
Note: I have refrained from giving exacting chemical recommendations for weed control. They
vary widely from one state to another. My advice is to call your County Agent or your State
Extension Weeds Specialist for specific recommendations as to rates, timing and perhaps
alternative herbicides for your farm.
What about resistant varieties? There are none at present. But when resistant varieties are
developed we will likely be the outfit that will develop and release them and you will be the first to

Some of The Most Often Asked
Questions And Answers for
Alfalfa Growers Around the USA
Through the years, I have tried to help farmers
improve their success record when establishing and
growing alfalfa. Here are but a few of the most
frequently asked questions and my stock answers. I
hope they help you get started and wind up as
successful as you planned.

Q. What are the biggest problems farmers have when seeding alfalfa?
A. Long time planning and seasonal timing are the biggest problems. Examples; soil testing and
the necessary time for soil amendments especially lime to alter pH, seedbed preparation,
clearing residual herbicide carryover following row crops, seeding early enough to allow new
plants time to survive weather related pitfalls, finding a varieties that fit your needs. This crop
ought to be in production for several years. So take your time and do it right!
Q. When is the best time of the year to seed alfalfa?
A. When moisture is not a problem, either spring or fall. If you choose fall, allow about 6-8 weeks
for establishment before the historic freeze date. If you prefer spring instead of fall, wait until the
frost is out of the ground.
Q. Which variety should I plant and where can I get it?
A. If you are planting one of our varieties, check with your local suppliers. Should you come up
blank, call our toll free number at 1-800-873-2532 or email me at advice@americasalfalfa.com
and we will lead you to the source.
Q. How deep should alfalfa seed be planted?
A. Shallow! On most soils to inch. On sandy soils up to inch.
Q. Why is alfalfa so hard to establish?
A. Alfalfa is not hard to establish so long as you take your time and think. Take as much time as
you would take to plan and plant a great piece of corn. Chances are the alfalfa will make you a
lot more income than a corn crop!

Q. What is one of the better and more exciting and successful seeding systems that has
been developed in the past 10-20 years?
A. Spring no-till seedings into killed winter wheat. Read about it in our AmericasAlfalfa .com
website for specific instructions.
Q. Can I seed alfalfa into an established grass pasture and if so, how?
A. So long as you adhere to the basic principles in the first part of this series which includes pH
of 6.5+ prior to seeding, P and K according to soil test needs, seed on schedule, and follow the
program that I have outlined in lecture series in our website Americasalfalfa.com especially you
must eliminate the heavy grass competition. You will find the entire program following Lecture
series 5 in the main introduction. Remember, there are no short cuts if you want to be
Q. What alfalfa is best for both grazing and hay?
A. Plant a verified grazing tolerant variety. Avoid the me-too varieties. Ask to see the grazing
data. If data is not available, find one that is verified. These verified varieties yield as high and
often higher than many/most hay types and they can be grazed. A hint: so long as you stay in
the Alfagraze family you are on the right track.
Q. When should I use a grain cover crop in a new alfalfa seeding?
A. When you know there is a good chance of sheet erosion without it. But keep the grain to about
the normal seeding rate to avoid competition with the alfalfa. I also suggest you harvest the
first hay crop when the grain is in the milk stage or earlier to avoid lingering competition with the
Q. What do I need to do to successfully plant alfalfa following corn?
A. Check the herbicides and the per acre rate used on the crop last season. If you or your
supplier is not sure of the safety specks, check with your county agent or your University
Q. When should cool season grasses be seeded with alfalfa?
A. When you fear erosion, an aging-thin alfalfa stand and weed encroachment, to reduce bloat
potential when grazing, and because you prefer to feed grass-legume over alfalfa alone to name
a few of the more pertinent reasons.
Q. Are there any ways to control broad leaf weeds in established alfalfa?
A. Not to my knowledge except spot spraying. Any herbicides that will take out the likes of the
various thistles and dock (and others) will kill alfalfa. There are herbicides that remove grassy
weeds without harming the alfalfa. Check with your county agent for the ones to use. The best
time to control broad leaf weeds is prior to seeding. Go to 6th lecture, in the first series in the
website for the whole story.
Q. Can I thicken an old alfalfa stand by seeding more alfalfa seed this year?
A. Probably not. Not unless the established seeding is less than 18 months old. If you want to get
the whole story, I refer you to Lecture 9 of my 1st Lecture Series entitled Autotoxicity in Alfalfa.
Q. Will alfalfa grow on river bottom ground?
A. Yes if it is well drained and pH and fertility levels are up to specs but if the soils are not well
drained and water remains on the soils for extended periods, the answer is no.
Q. How long does it take to bring a pH level from say 5.6 to 6.6?
A. It depends on the fineness of grind of limestone, the rate applied per acre, and the soil type.
We usually allow 12-18 months to make the change. Sometimes it takes less time. Infrequently it
takes more time than this. Why not check with a new soil tests after about 6-8 months to get a
current status.
Q. When is the best time to apply manure on alfalfa.
A. During seedbed preparation and before seeding.
Summary: I hope we covered some/most of the questions that bother you. But if we have
missed, get to us and we will sure try our best to fill the void.

Alfalfa Planting Methods

That Work!


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa

Production 101

More mistakes are made that affect alfalfa stand

quality, yields and persistence prior to and during
seeding than at any other short period of time that an
alfalfa field is in production. Producers need to
remember that this piece of land is going to be
committed to alfalfa production for usually four or
more years and if mistakes at seeding are made, the
crops that follow will never be as productive and
profitable as they could have been. So take your time,
study your lessons and think though every move
before putting the seed in the ground.

Select soil that is well drained internally and use current soil tests and treat according to pH and
fertilizer needs, time your planting so that new growth has an excellent chance to establish well
ahead of historically inclement weather. Pick varieties that fit your program needs. Check our
website for those best suited for your area and use as hay, silage or pastures or maybe all three.
Lets take a look at some seeding methods that work well wherever this crop is grown. Some of
these seeding methods may be new to you but are being used by more farmers each year. This
lecture is going to be more detailed and longer than most of the rest of the normal lesson
formats. If you need more details, go to our website and ask me for it.
Planting in a Prepared Seedbed
The numbers of farmers who plow and prepare a garden-like seedbed for alfalfa are fading in
recent years. Why? There are so many other systems that work as well or better especially on
land that will likely erode without a green cover crop or crop residue. But if the clean-garden-like
seedbed lays on level ground and this is what you want to work with, here is the formula that I
have used successfully for 50 + years.
1. If you are seeding in late summer, plow in the early summer and disk as needed to control
weeds. Firm the soil with some sort of packing or pressing field tool such as a cultipacker after
each disking (to hold as much moisture as possible). A tooth harrow will not be as effective as a
smooth/solid bed but it can help.
2. Make the seedings at least six weeks ahead of the first killing frost based on weather records.
Seeding rates vary from region to region. The normal seeding rate in most of the humid regions
is 15-18 pounds per acre. Irrigated areas are about the same. In the non-irrigated west and
northern plains, the rates are usually half the above amounts. In the deep southern states,
seeding rates are usually increased to 25-30 pounds. If you are unsure of the amount to use,
check with your county agent or your seed dealer or a successful alfalfa producer that you know
real well. Caution: on most soils keep the seed depth to to inch and inch on sandy soils.
Conventional Spring Plantings Following Corn or Beans
Well over 50% of the alfalfa plantings in the humid dairy/beef belt are planted following corn for
grain or silage. Nearly all of these fields lay idle during the winter months. In some instances,
farmers cut or disk the residue stalks soon after the crop is harvested. This helps to level the
ground so that in the early spring, the ground is easier to prepare for seeding. All of these
procedures help to place the seed at the right depth and provide a more uniform stand from the
beginning. Now, lets see some of the mistakes that are often made and how you can prevent
1. Nearly all farmers use herbicides in row crop production. Some of these chemicals stay active
in the soil longer than others and can have a devastating effect on new alfalfa seedlings. Check
the herbicide labels on the chemicals and rates you have used to see what steps are necessary
to dilute pesticide carry-over influence in your soil. You may find that you should wait a year or
more to plant on a particular area due to the carryover effect potentials.
2. Nurse crop or no nurse crop is a question that has been argued for years. If the land is steep
and you fear erosion, some small grain cover will surely help. But keep the small grain seeding
rate low (a bushel or less per acre). Remember your main objective is to get a thrifty stand of
alfalfa that will produce fantastic yields of high quality hay, silage, or grazing for several years.
The small grain nurse crop will compete for light and water and very often if allowed to go to

grain, can reduce initial thus continuing stands.

3. One of the biggest problems with seeding after row crops is seed distribution and depth. You
still need a firm seedbed. Take your time seeding and slow the tractor speed. If all goes well, you
should be ready for the first hay or silage cut in about 9-10 weeks most years.
4. Following soybeans is tricky. The soil is usually soft (some farmers refer to it as puffy). Even
though the crop residue is much less than following corn, the soil is usually hard to firm (pack)
due to the root structure and the aftermath conditions of the soil following this crop. Therefore, it
is difficult to place the seed at the proper depth.
Lets Look at No-Till in Four Systems
You can return to the web page and get the entire story on no-till alfalfa seeding methods. But
here, I am going to deal only with those features that should help you as you plan to go to the
field. You will note that the herbicides Gramaxone and Roundup appear in all of the following
recommendations. When you use Gramaxone, always include surfactant to improve the
chemicals effectiveness. The water rate for best application and growth control is 20+ gallons
per acre for both herbicides.
When seeding alfalfa following corn whether the crop is harvested as silage or grain, you should
seed a small grain for winter cover when possible. If trizine herbicides (atrizine, simazine or their
replacements) were used on the row crop, their residual effects can injure legumes planted the
following spring. So, in the planning process for no-till seeding alfalfa is sure to follow labeled
recommendations for best results at the time the corn is planted. The following spring, apply 1-2
pints of Gramaxone per acre on the small grain when it is 4-6 inches tall. Then no-till drill 15-20
pounds of alfalfa seed immediately. Should small grain re-growth occur (5-6 inches tall) mow just
above the alfalfa or graze to help prevent smothering and continued competition to the newly
planted alfalfa?
Seeding alfalfa no-till following soybeans is about the same procedure. But since beans normally
mature later than corn grain, there are fewer small grain selections and winter wheat and rye are
your best bets behind beans
Seeding alfalfa following small grains has lots of options and is fast becoming a great way to get
an alfalfa stand quickly and more economically with less soil erosion potential. Here are three
1. Alfalfa can be seeded without tillage into an 8-10 inch (tall) small grain crop prior to silage
harvest. If rye is the small grain, it will likely re-grow after it is harvested as silage in the ideal
(boot stage). When this occurs, the rye should be mowed or chemically controlled with Poast or
Poast Plus (or similar recommended herbicides) at 4-6 inches of growth. If winter wheat or winter
barley is used and harvested as silage in the dough stage, regrowth is very seldom a problem.
However should regrowth occur, the herbicides will control it.
2. When small grain silage is made ahead of the boot stage, wait about 5-10 days for re-growth
and apply one pint of Gramaxone per acre just prior to seeding the alfalfa.
3. When the small grain is harvested as grain (in the summer), fall seeding alfalfa is best. Just
before seeding and at least six weeks before the historic freeze date, apply 1-2 pints of
Gramaxone to control weeds when soil moisture conditions are favorable. Volunteer small grain
should be mowed or controlled with the above herbicides after seeding if it reaches 5-7 inches in
height and threatens to smother the alfalfa seedlings.
Seeding Alfalfa No-Till Into Cool Season Grass Sods is not a quick or easy fix operation.
Years of research and on farm experience prove that no-till can be as reliable as conventional
seeding while saving farmers time and money in the process. Farmers who follow a precise
system that combines selecting quality varieties with tried and proven herbicides, seeding
equipment, seed placement accuracy, and scouting can make this practice work for them. It is a
little trickier than no-till seeding following row and small grain crops. But when you pay attention
to what you are doing and are willing to follow the rules, you can and will be sure to be surprised
at the great results.
Remember, you are dealing with alfalfa so it is necessary to take care of the lime and fertilizer
needs. When you use the no-till drill you can very easily bury the seed. So set and monitor the
drill to maintain - inch depth for seed (up to inch) depth in sandy soils.
Spring is the best time for seeding no-till in these sods.
1. Reduce the competition from existing plants with appropriate herbicides. Decide prior to
seeding whether to eliminate the sod completely or maintain a portion to grow along with the

alfalfa and modify herbicide applications accordingly. Since seed placement is a primary cause of
alfalfa stand failure, use only no-till drills designed for seeding into sods and monitor and adjust
the drill accordingly.
2. To eliminate as much of the sod as possible, mow or graze the grass fields in early autumn
and apply one quart of Gramaxone or one to two quarts of Roundup per acre. In the early spring,
a follow-up application of one pint of Gramaxone per acre may be applied to achieve total or near
total grass control. Then, no-till drill the alfalfa seed in early spring.
3. To maintain a portion of the sod, graze or mow as above in the fall while the grass is still green
and growing. Then apply one pint of Gramaxone per acre. A follow-up application of Gramaxone
is necessary only if winter annual weeds are present or a threat.
4. In areas where perennial weeds such as dock, horse nettle, thistles, or other persistent weeds
are present, apply 2-4D and/or Banvel on the sod at locally recommended rates the summer
before seeding. For once you establish the alfalfa stand, there are no herbicides that will take
these weeds out without taking the alfalfa out along with them.
Seeding No-Till in The Fall
Folks in Virginia and the other Atlantic Coast and southern and near Southern States have been
successful with fall no-till seedings. But the system is quite different than spring seedings. Here
is what they do: Graze or mow the existing grass by late spring. Apply one quart of Gramaxone
or one to two quarts of Roundup per acre to the green foliage. No-till seed 20-25 pounds of
foxtail (German) millet per acre for a weed-smother crop and for harvest for hay or silage. This
millet will be in early head as very good quality hay or silage in about 7-8 weeks. With this annual
millet, there will be little if any re-growth so late summer weeds can be a possibility. Should this
happen, apply a pint of Gramaxone per acre for fall cleanup. Seed the alfalfa at 15-20 pounds
per acre at least six weeks prior to the historic freeze date.
Just a note in passing, based on years of field observations: Roundup is more effective removing
orchardgrass than Gramaxone. Yet, Gramaxone is more effective on fescue, and bluegrass. We
have seen farmers far and wide, apply Gramaxone to fescue/orchardgrass stands and remove
all but a small portion of the fescue. Likewise, we have seen farmers go the opposite way and
remove orchardgrass with Roundup. Does this help?
Good luck, you are going to enjoy and be surprised at the great crops you get when no-till
seeding WHEN you follow the rules.

Getting Ready For Your Next Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

I wish I had a quarter for every time I have had to try

to bail farmers out or failing with a new alfalfa seeding
when they have waited until the last minute to even
make up their mind that they were going to plant a
crop. I am going to list in order, a set of priorities that
can take some of the guess work out of being ready
at the right time so that success is better assured.
1. Alfalfa grows best on soils that are well drained
internally. Soils that tend to hold water for long
periods or have an impervious hardpan that restricts
tap roots from penetrating deeply are not good alfalfa
On these soils, yields will be low and stand-survival short. What you want is a soil that will allow
root penetration over a long period. If you are looking for color of a soil, brown to red soils are
ideal as well as the black/prairie types. Even well drained river-bottom soils are often quite
productive. Your best bet is to obtain a soils map for your farm. If you do not already have one or
need some help to understand it, go to your County Agent and ask him to help.

2. Soil pH should be 6.5 and above at seeding for good establishment and high-consistent
production. If the pH is lower than this level it will take some time to elevate the level. For
instance, should your soil tests show a pH of 5.6-5.8, you can count on at a year to 18 months
for high quality ag-lime to bring it to the ideal alfalfa establishment-production level even on the
lighter soils. So if you are planning to make a seeding next season, pull soil samples at least a
year in advance. Yes there are some shortcuts in some few cases but it isnt cheap. Finely
ground dolomite or similar products can replace regular agricultural limestone on a 1 for 2 bases.
That is, 1000 pounds of the finely ground products will substitute for 2000 pounds of the regular
agricultural-lime. The costs are higher but the time span for amending the pH can be shortened.
3. Soil tests will also report the phosphate and potash needs. These materials can be applied
prior to seeding, at seeding, or soon after seeding. Follow-up fertilizer top-dressing should be
scheduled based on up-dated soil tests and recommendations. Another tip, when seeding on a
newly prepared seedbed, 25 to 40 pounds of nitrogen will help to get the new seedlings off to a
great start. But on no-till plantings in established sods, forget it. The nitrogen will stimulate the
resident vegetation and cause severe competition with the new alfalfa planting.
4. Order your seed early. That way, you can be sure to get the varieties you want instead of
having to plant whatever your seed supplier has left-over at the end of the sales season. In the
Midwest and upper South, the per-acre seeding rates are 15-20 pounds. In the deep southern
states, and the irrigated far west, the rates are much higher.
5. Plan to seed at the ideal time. In the spring, be ready to seed as soon as the frost is out of the
ground. Later plantings are more prone to weed invasion and drought problems. Fall plantings
should have at least 5-6 weeks to get established prior to the historic freeze dates. Otherwise the
seedlings are more prone to winterkill and are more subject to such diseases as Sclerotonia root
and crown rot.
6. If you are going to seed no-till, go to our website on the subject Seeding Alfalfa No-Till and
study it thoroughly. Why not go ahead and print a copy for your personal use and follow the
directions. For goodness sakes, dont try shortcuts and expect success.
7. I see innumerable alfalfa stand failures caused by seeding too late or too early in the season
and by burying the seed. Time and experience has established the ground rules for these two
conditions so you better follow them if you expect good stands every time.
8. In a nutshell, timing and following the basic priorities are not everything when it comes to
success with new alfalfa plantings but they are clues to a great way to get started.

Selecting an Alfalfa Variety for Your Farm

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

There is no such thing as making a silk purse our of a

sows ear. Neither can you expect the best alfalfa hay
and pasture yields and survival over time with the
cheapest or the old reliable varieties. With all of the
varieties available, you can now choose the ones with
the characteristics you need and want. These include
yield, adaptation, persistence, disease and insect
resistance, and even grazing and traffic tolerance. So for
goodness sake, take the time to study and select the
best varieties for you to grow on some of your best land
for the next four or more years.
A study by folks at The Pennsylvania State University a number of years ago looked at the costs
of producing alfalfa on some 500 farms in that state. I have left out the decimals to make it easier
to understand. Production costs were as follows: Machinery 40%, Fertilizer including lime 20%,
Labor 17%, Land-Use 15%, Other (including seed, pesticides, etc.) 8%. The seed cost is a small
fraction (possibly 5%) of the cost of production.

Some data of work at the University of Kentuckys Dr. Jimmy Henning of the Department of
Agronomy has opened a lot of eyes. As a supplement to his yield trials over a period of two years
at three locations, he discovered an average 16.5% lower yield of the old-check varieties
compared to some of the top, varieties possessing features like disease and insect resistance,
better adaptation, etc.
When he related this yield difference to dollar value, the returns were very relevant. He reported,
when alfalfa hay is selling for $85 a ton the increased yield from the top-new varieties over the
check varieties grossed $72 more per acre. For a five-year stand thats an extra $361.25 per
acre. On 20 acres, that adds up to $7,225 more income for an added seed cost of $800.00 for the
entire 20 acres. A return of $9 for each $1 increase in cost for the seed isnt a bad return on the
added investment.
Most farmers that I know are looking for reliable varieties that will produce well for at least 4-5
years. If the crop is going to grazed, this is a no brainier, you should select one of our grazing
tolerant varieties. If you are looking only for high hay yields, select a hay variety that is a high
yielding in valid tests and has proved dependable with a history of survival, high in quality, and is
disease resistant that fits a specific need. If you think you might want to graze livestock and cut
hay both from the same field, always chose a grazing variety.
We have found that our grazing tolerant varieties also produce exceptionally high hay yields. In
fact some of the top yields in company and University trials were reported to be made using the
grazing/traffic tolerant varieties including AmeriStand 403T, AmeriGraze 401+ Z and AmeriStand
I can make it easy for you to select and find the right varieties for your farm. Simply log onto:
www.americasalfalfa.com. to locate the variety you want to grow. If you want or need more
information, simply use the above web address and click to grazing varieties or haying varieties,
then click to more information, then for expert advice and request our new variety publication
written especially for your area and it will be sent to you immediately.

What Is The Correct Seeding Rate For Alfalfa?


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa

Production 101

The first two questions that farmers ask, once they have decided to plant an field of alfalfa is,
What variety should I sow and What is the right seeding rate for my farm? Thats a tough pair
of questions unless whoever is asked inquires, what is the normal (traditional) rate for your
region and how it is going to be used, (hay or grazing), the amount of slope and potential sheet
erosion hazards, are you going to seed with a cool season or warm season perennial grass? You
see it is not all that simple and the chances are you will be the one to find the final answer.
There are roughly 220,000 alfalfa seed in one pound of seed. There are 43,560 square feet per
acre so with absolute and immaculate seed distribution, this could put five seeds per square foot.
Of course, you are not going to be able to get a seeding that perfect. So what is the practical way
to decide on a respectable seeding rate to get uniform and vigorous alfalfa stand that will endure?

An ideal seedling alfalfa stand is 25-40 plants per square foot at three to four weeks after
planting. If thats the case, why you might ask, do the recommended seeding rates run around
15-18 pounds per acre and higher in most of the Midwestern states? In other areas of the humid
region such as the Southeast, the recommended rates are usually double the 15 pounds per acre
rate. In those regions in between the Midwest and Southeast, the rates are somewhere in
between, 15-20 pounds per acre. In the irrigated regions of the West, where most of the crop is
used for commercial hay production, seeding rates are usually higher (25-35 pounds per acre) to
get very thick stands from which they sell quality hay and keep the crop in production longer. It is
simply a notion to have a dense-uniform vigorous crop to ward off early weed and missmanagement screw-ups.

The Best Time of the Year to Seed Alfalfa


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa

Production 101

For most of the country, spring is a preferred season over fall for seeding alfalfa. Most of the folks
in the Midwest will agree but farmers in the south do not agree. I am going to let YOU decide
which is the best time for you.

What determines the 'right time' for seeding?

1. Water and soil moisture.
2. Weather temperatures and
sufficient time for establishment
before normal weather
3. Seed depth.
4. Weed control.
5. The cropping rotation.

Over 70% of the alfalfa acres are planted in the spring following row crops. Those farmers who
are as serious about alfalfa as farmers in other areas are about their main crops and use all of
their skills and the best equipment available to get the best establishment possible every time.
They know that if they bungle the thick, uniform, vigorous initial stand, they have blown it and
stand failures and low yields will follow. Most dairy farmers and many commercial hay producers
like to jump in on residue row crop fields early and do everything possible to dilute carry over
long-duration herbicide used in grain production by disking, chisel plowing, or whatever is
necessary to remove this sure hazard. Better still they plan for years in advance to not use long

residual herbicides if they plan to make alfalfa seedings in the no-seeding time zone on
proposed/planned new alfalfa seeding areas.
If the seeding is early, just after the frost is out of the ground, moisture for early-smooth
emergence is nearly always assured. Yet, ever so often, some farmers get behind and get in a
hurry and bury the seed and spotted or bad stands result. So take it easy and get the right depth
of to inch and never over inch in sandy soils. Early seeding places the alfalfa in a great
position to take advantage of moisture and compete with weeds. So get with the seeding as soon
as the weather and soil will let you.
Fall planting, while not the most popular system used nationwide anymore, still rules supreme in
most of the southern states and much of the irrigated West. Why? It is a matter of land
preparation time to make the garden-like seedbeds. Then, when water is removed as a limiting
factor, stand failure is seldom experienced especially when the seedbed is firmed prior to
planting. Six to eight weeks is the recommended time frame necessary from planting to the first
killing frost or just plain cold weather that slows or stops aggressive alfalfa plant growth

Seeding Alfalfa in Late Summer/Fall


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
For alfalfa to get off to a great start you should make
late summer seedings well ahead of the historic cold
weather season. What you really need then is to allow at
least 5-6 weeks of actual growing time before the cold
season slows or stops emerging growth.
Unless you give the plants time to grow vigorously you
can face some winterkill and could even encounter
crown and stem rot diseases. Perhaps the worst of
these is Sclerotinia Crown and Stem Rot.

Many years ago, one of the best plant pathologists I ever knew explained Sclerotonia to me this
way; Sclerotinia fungus is everywhere. It usually strikes struggling new alfalfa or even red clover
similar to the cold-flu syndrome in humans. When we add to this situation of planting the crops on
marginal soils and you can expect the disease to hit and hit hard. For all of these reasons you
should always make alfalfa plantings early enough to get them off to a great start before winter
sets in. And six weeks or more gives you a great shot to hit the best growing time for plants to
flourish and ward off these problems.
If you live in the humid area where sprinkle irrigation is not commonly used but is available and
the soil is dry, a 2 to 4 inch drink can pay big dividends. This is especially so when you are
running out of early fall growing time, the water can certainly help with delayed plant emergence.
What system are you going to use to prepare for the plantings? If you are going to prepare a
seedbed from scratch as has been customary for years for late summer/early fall seedings, get
on it early! If you plow, disk as frequently as needed to keep weeds under control. Then seal the
surface with a drag harrow or better still, firm the ground with a cultipaker following each disking
in order to save as much soil moisture as possible. This added treatment to prepare a level bed
further helps to get a leg-up for a uniform thrifty stand before cold weather.
If you are going to go the no-till route, please for goodness sake, follow the guidelines that we
have laid out in our website under No-Till Seeding Alfalfa. You will note that Dr. Harlan White
and I have indicated that the best system for no-till seeding alfalfa in the late summer/early fall is
following small grains, especially wheat. But go back to the Website under the title of Alfalfa
University and move your cursor to no-till and fall seeding following crops. Study this carefully and
if you have need for more specifics, ask for my help on our website: americasalfalfa.com.
We have said all along, no-till alfalfa seeding is not a quick fix operation, but years of research
and practical on-farm experience prove no-till can be as reliable (and for many more reliable) than
conventional seeding while saving farmers time and money in the process. Farmers who follow a

precise system that combines quality tried and proven varieties, herbicides, seeding equipment,
seeding accuracy, and scouting can make this practice work for them.
Now for the real stuff! You know the drill of how to get an alfalfa stand that will get off to a great
start and produce great feed for years to come. But just in case you forgot, (and I have the
formula in at least a dozen locations on the Website) here they are summarized:
1) Plant on soils that have great internal drainage.
2) Check the pH for it must be above 6.2 (preferably 6.5 and above) before
seeding. If it is lower, better pick another field where the pH is higher and apply
lime now for next years seeding on this field.
3) Elevate P and K (phosphate and potash) according to soil test
4) Dont bury the seed! For most soils, to inch is about right. On sandy soils
you may go up to inch. Most top growers feel pretty good if they see some
seed on top of the ground after seeding. Then they know the seed is not too
5) Seeding rates vary widely. In most of the Corn Belt and surrounding areas, the
rate is in the 15-18 pound per acre level. In the mid and deep South and the
irrigated regions of California, the rates range to 25 pounds and higher. In the
arid northern states, the rates are about half the Corn Belt rates.
6) Variety selection to me anymore is a no-brainer. All you need to do is to look at
our Website for variety reports and pick the one (s) that fit your needs. A tip: As
much as you run over a field and cause stand failures due to traffic or cattle or
wild deer break-in damage, look closely at our traffic tolerant varieties? They live
and yield as well or better than hay-only varieties and are more abuse resistant!

Growing Cool Season Grasses With Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Whether or not you grow grass with alfalfa

depends a lot on where you live, the traditions and
topography, and how the crop is to be used. If the
land is inclined to erode without good cover, grass
can certainly help you to nail it. If you have seeded
a grazing tolerant variety and are planning to
graze with beef, dairy or sheep, grass in
combination with alfalfa will help protect the soils
from treading damage and will reduce bloat
potentials dramatically. When horses are grazed
on alfalfa, grass is a sure fit mainly to moderate
quality and increase fiber.
When grass is seeded to fill the holes in thinning alfalfa stands, broadleaf weeds will be easier to
control with grass in the mix. On the flip side, if the weed problem is grassy weeds, herbicides to
control the likes of crabgrass etc. will also be rough on the selected grasses, especially the cool
season grasses. So be aware of this conflict up front before you go full bore to the mixture.
There are some problems that you should be aware of when these two groups of plants are
seeded together. 1) The protein levels will be reduced and the overall feed quality will be lowered
slightly as grass is substituted for alfalfa. 2) The fertility level (especially potassium) requirement
is increased. Let me explain it this way, grasses tend to overfeed on potassium and on soils that
are naturally low in that element, this process happens earlier than on soils that are high in
potassium resulting in early thinning of alfalfa stands. Where alfalfa and grass are grown together,
most farmers solve the problem by routinely increasing potash (K20) by 60 to 90 pounds per acre
at the annual topdressing to help avoid thinning and to increase annual yields.
What cool season grasses work well with alfalfa? Basically there are four species that are used in
the alfalfa belt. They are listed by climatic adaptation and alfalfa compatibility. Orchardgrass,
smooth bromegrass, timothy, tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass.

Orchardgrass is widely adapted and considered the grass of choice. It is a bunch grass that tends
to be less intrusive than the sod forming grasses. It is also more productive during the summer
months than other cool season grasses thus providing more competition for weeds. The grazing
quality is quite good and when made into hay, is very desirable for all classes of livestock
especially when harvested prior to heading.
Smooth bromegrass is very high in feed quality and palatability, higher than orchardgrass.
Problems, it is quite intrusive, is not as widely adapted (best suited to the upper Midwest) and
does not grow as well as orchardgrass in the summertime.
Timothy is a high quality grass as well. Timothy in most areas makes little growth beyond early
spring. It is the grass of choice by horse owners especially when harvested as hay with alfalfa. It
is not as intrusive as the above two grasses. However, as the alfalfa stands thin, weeds usually
become a problem. The best area of adaptation is in the northern Midwest and the Northeast.
Tall fescue, while widely adapted tends to be more competitive and lower in palatability than the
other species. Yet in much of the Deep South, this is the only cool season grass that is well
adapted that tolerates competition and resist early weed invasion. In recent years there have
been some phenomenal variety improvements especially in feed quality and animal acceptability.
So no longer should you count this species out when seeded primarily for grazing with our
grazing tolerant alfalfas.
Kentucky Bluegrass is a sod forming-grass that when established does a fine job of retarding
weed intrusion and sheet erosion. The main problems are adaptation, lower production levels and
because of its sod-forming characteristics, often causes severe competition with alfalfa. It is a
great grazing grass especially in early spring.
When should these grasses be seeded into alfalfa? Again it depends. Because of the likelihood of
early grassy weed invasion in new plantings and the coming of better herbicides to control these
weeds, more farmers each year are moving to seed alfalfa alone and planting grass into the fields
into the alfalfa with a no-till drill a season or two later or whenever the alfalfa stands begin to thin.
As for the seeding rates, check with your University or pick up a seeding chart at your County
Agents office or from your favorite seed dealer.
Now the key question, why fool with grass in alfalfa? Grass forage is better feed than most weeds
and grass does compete for space with unwanted weeds. Also, if you graze, the soil is better
protected and bloat potential is reduced and often eliminated. Also when grass is included, alfalfa
stands persist longer, soils are better protected from erosion, and the crop is easier to manage.

When and Why Top-Dress Fertilize Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
There are two reasons to fertilize alfalfa after it has
been established. 1) increase yield and 2) improve
persistence. Once the stand is established and the
land is committed to alfalfa production, what else is
So often, I have seen folks who are so proud of the
fact that they are at last growing the crop, they forget
to feed the crop! As a result, they are often
disappointed in yield and thriftiness. Here is rule
number one: any time a crop is harvested and hauled
off the land, fertility is hauled off as well. If it is not
replaced at the crop removal rate or higher, crop
performance and survival (in the case of perennial
forages) both will drop.


Production 101

What fertilizers? Seldom is nitrogen needed to top-dress alfalfa; for once established, the legume
produces its own nitrogen. Phosphorus and potassium are the main ingredients that are needed
to grow healthy plants. In areas where Boron is low, (that is usually where limestone is needed to
correct the soil pH) it should be added annually at rates that range from 2 to 4 pounds per acre of
(actual B) These rates vary by region. Check with your County Agent or University for the best
rate in your area.
How much P2O5 (phosphate) and K2O (potash)? There is no better guide than a current soil test
and valid recommendations. Just keep in mind that every time you haul off a ton of hay, you are
removing about 12-15 pounds of P2O5 (phosphate) and 60 pounds of K2O (potash), about 100
pounds of lime and pound of Boron. In some areas, sulfur and magnesium are needed but their
use and recommendations are not uniform. Soil tests and plant tissue tests will help tell you about
these two and maybe others. But phosphate, potash, and lime + Boron are the mainstays for top
When is the best time to top-dress fertilize an established alfalfa crop? I had a friend at Clemson
University a long time ago who had a way of handling this question very appropriately. His stock
answer was, dont put it off, put it on! In most places except on sandy soils, the best time to top
dress alfalfa is in the fall. Why? Fertilizers, fertilizer spreader trucks, and rental buggies are both
more plentiful and prices are usually more favorable than in the spring. Also, the ground is firm
making it easier to apply and easier on the stand. This timing helps to stabilize and feed the
plants during the winter months and provides better winter survival potential and earlier spring
Through the years, many have wondered if potash would leach when applied in the fall or even
late winter. In recent yeas, we see little if any evidence of leaching, even potash leaching, except
perhaps on sandy soils. On these sandy soils, most recommendations call for split applications
just before and during the producing season. How about split applications other than these soils?
Chances are you will be doing more harm to the alfalfa stands by driving over the fields than you
will be helping. If you get the fields treated for a whole years production, leave them alone is my
What about fertilizing where you are grazing alfalfa? It depends on the grazing systems you are
using AND results of soil tests. It just makes sense that when cattle graze, they remove very little
of the fertility in the process of producing bone, meat tissue, and milk as most of the plants are
returned to the soil as manure. The problem is manure distribution. When the animals are
confined to small paddocks in large numbers for short periods and re-cycled with new growth, it
just make sense that the manure will be pretty well distributed. But if the animals are allowed to
roam over large areas for extended times, two things will happen: forage and animal performance
per acre will take a hit and uniform manure distribution will be terrible and of passing value in
maintaining uniform fertility. In this last case, top dressing will be required to maintain stands and
hold high yields.

Alfalfa Harvest Damage

How to Reduce & Prevent Traffic Damage
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Any producer who has cut alfalfa for hay or silage realizes that wheel traffic can cause long lasting
damage to stands young and old. The maximum damage comes when the ground is wet and new
growth is beginning to take place. The worst time to travel over a newly cut field is in the 5-7 day
period immediately following harvest. Since this problem nearly always limits the life span of any
alfalfa planting, growers should time and reduce as many vehicle trips across fields as possible.

In an effort to reduce traffic damage on established

stands, our Americas Alfalfa Research team has been
in the process of breeding varieties that are
exceptionally tolerant to both wheel and grazing traffic.
In 2002, the first truly wheel traffic tolerant variety,
AmeriStand 403T was released. This variety is tops in
tolerance to both grazing and vehicle traffic. I suggest
you go to our website www.americasalfalfa.com and
pull up the 403-T test data. Here you will find this
variety compared with many of the leading varieties
that are currently on the market. You will be
dumbfounded at what you see and realize what you
gain as you replace and enlarge your alfalfa acreage.
What about the acreage that you now have in production? What can you do to prevent stand
losses associated with wheel traffic? Dr. Dan Undersander, Extension Forage Specialist at the
University of Wisconsin has listed some of his main conclusions and recommendations based on
his pioneering efforts to reduce traffic damage.
1. Avoid unnecessary trips across a field when harvesting as well as between harvests. For
example; mow and condition in a single operation, avoid hauling full wagons the length of the
fields, possibly have sacrifice paths that are always driven, when bales are dropped and
collected, can this be done with less driving (using a bale collector?), and do not drive on alfalfa
fields when harvesting crops in adjacent fields.
2. Use smallest tractor possible for raking and if a loader is mounted to the tractor, remove it
before raking. Anything you can do to reduce machinery weight, do it.
3. Consider using larger equipment (there is some real question about this because while less
area is affected by the wheel traffic, the affected area has greater weight applied to it). This could
be another benefit to contract harvesting. However use wagons to haul to the edge of the fields
and then drop into trucks for hauling unless the soil is very firm.
4. Do necessary driving on fields as soon after cutting as possible.
To this list I would like to add:
1.Smooth tires do less damage to the alfalfa than tires with huge lugs.
2. When cattle break in your fields, walk them out dont drive them out with a pickup or a fourwheeler.
3. Make it a point to stay out of the fields between harvests with all vehicles.
4.Some growers prefer to fertilize alfalfa during the production season. If that is your system,
consider changing to a once-a-season application plan or at least stay out of the field during the
7-18 day regrowth interval.
5.Plant varieties that are independently tested to yield more under traffic. And while you are at it,
check out the advantage that AmeriStand 403T has demonstrated in University trials.
As you make plans for new seedings refer to our website and review the test data on yields and
feed quality. Also, spend some time reading the results of trials dealing with the problem and
solutions in traffic interference.

Breaking Yield Barriers in Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Through this series of lectures, I continue to try to report the best

information I have accumulated through my own experience and have
taught and learned from farmers and professionals for over five
decades. My attention has always been directed at how to produce
profitable alfalfa and do this year in and year out. I am concentrating on
systems that lead to terrific yields, persistent stands and high quality
hay, silage and grazing. These systems are research based and have
been put to the test and passed these tests with great responses on
dairy, beef, and hay producing farms throughout America. I hope you
find these ideas work for you.
The following are the basic ingredients to produce top yields of high
quality alfalfa. You will not find short cuts, just the facts.

1. Alfalfa is a deep-rooted perennial legume that requires deep, well- drained soils. These soils
should allow the roots unrestricted growth to a depth of three feet or more.
2. High pH, phosphate and potash levels are imperative.
3. Select high yielding, persistent varieties that fit your specific area and needs.
4. A ton of alfalfa hay requires four inches of water from all sources.
5. Dont ever bury seed. Shallow seedings; depth of - inch is ideal under most situations and
up to inch in sandy soils.
6. Establish a harvest schedule for quality, yield, and persistence.
7. Scout, identify, and treat yield and stand threatening problems before they become
8. Control/eliminate broadleaf perennial weeds before seeding.
9. Avoid harvests during the five to six week rest period prior to historic freeze-hard frost dates.
Methods and systems to produce consistent high quality high yielding alfalfa that endures year
after year:
1. The roots of 3-5 year old alfalfa often reach depths of four to six feet when unrestricted. I have
seen roots as deep as 20 feet when road cuts have been made through old alfalfa fields. It is
therefore imperative that alfalfa be grown on the very best drained, deep soils. Avoid seeding in
hard-pan soils and other impervious conditions such as sub-surface water and/or solid rock
formations that are closer to the surface than 3 feet. Should you not have the deep soils, better
buy, rent, or lease a suitable site or select different legumes for hay, silage and grazing.
2. Remove pH and fertility as limiting yield factors. The ideal pH level for alfalfa is 6.5-7.0. A ton
of alfalfa removes about 100 pounds of lime, 12-15 pounds of phosphate and 60 pounds of
potash. So keep in mind that when you remove hay or silage, you remove these minerals and
they must be replaced or yields will drop and in time the stands will thin and weeds will invade.
On soils that are amended to elevate pH, Boron is usually needed. Two to four pounds per acre
are the normal rate, (Check with your University or your fertilizer for the B rate in your area). In
some areas, depending on current soil and tissue analyses, sulfur and magnesium are
recommended-needed to attain top yields. If you want to go for top yield, I suggest you follow
your current soil test recommendations for ingredients and ratios before seeding and for follow
up topdressing in established plantings. Your best bet is to run soil tests at the end of each
production season or at least, every other year. The best time for annual topdressing for most
areas is in the fall immediately after the last harvest. For those growers who prefer to fertilize
during the production season, the best time is immediately following the first or second harvest.
Wheel-track traffic damage by fertilizer spreaders is terrible after seven to eighteen days of plant
regrowth. So be sure to apply fertilizers as soon as possible after harvest. When and how much
fertilizer? Follow the soil test recommendations for ratios. If you have the pioneering spirit you
might want to double back on a portion of a field and count bales and costs/returns or days of
extra grazing and evaluate the resulting residual stands at the end of a year or two. I saw this
system used several years ago by a top-notch farmer who was dissatisfied with his three and
four ton yields and good stands that usually lasted less than four years. What he was shooting
for was five-six tons per acre. So he decided to try fertilizing an established alfalfa field at the
recommended rate and double back over half of a field. At each harvest and at the end of the
year he counted and weighed bales. On the doubled rates his yield jumped to five tons the first
year. He tried triple rates but did not get the added yield response he wanted or expected. I
wonder what his yield would have been if he had been able to grow AmeriStand 403T or
AmeriGraze 401+Z or Affinity+Z instead of the varieties he was growing such as Buffalo, Atlantic,
or sometimes Vernal. No question, yields would have been higher and the stands would have
been more durable.
3. Study yield data released by your University Agronomy Department and the companies you
plan to buy your seed from. Then, select top performing varieties for your area and needs. Until
1990, the only alfalfa varieties available were designed for hay and silage harvest. Some farmers

did graze residual stands as fields were ready to be plowed and returned to the grain rotation
and that was for the most part, the extent of alfalfa grazing until the grazing tolerant varieties
came into the picture. Just in the last decade our company, Americas Alfalfa has released
varieties that combine grazing and mechanical traffic tolerance, that produce exceptional yields
and forage quality that is impeccable. After all of these years in the field, I have yet to see any
lineup of varieties that are as good or as promising as those we continue to develop and market.
Check the list and see which one(s) best suit your needs.
4. Alfalfa requires four acre-inches of water to produce a ton of hay. In areas where the annual
rainfall is 40 inches or less and mechanical or flood irrigation is not available, annual hay yields
usually top out at 5-6 tons per acre. Sometimes the yields can be as high as seven tons in wet
years. When irrigation is added to the other improved practices this is when the miracle 10+ tons
per acre is achieved. Water is especially important when making late summer and early fall
seedings. The timing for these seedings particularly in the humid regions coincides with summer
droughts periods and often the soils are powder-dry. With winter just around the corner plants
need to make at least a foot of fall growth before the cold weather onslaught. If there is a chance
to lease or rent irrigation units and water is available, irrigation can pay big dividends. A few
inches of water can make the difference between marginal and fantastic crops. Early/vigorous
survival and growth is directly related to plant health, crop height, stand vigor, winter injury
resistance, and resistance to crown and root diseases especially Sclerotonia Crown and Stem
5. Seeding systems and methods have been argued for as long as I have been around and will
continue for years to come. Yet more mistakes are made before and during seeding than at any
other time in the life of the alfalfa field. The biggest mistake is placing the seed too deep in the
ground. Here is a rule of thumb. Seed of any species should be planted eight times as deep as
the seed is thick. When seeded deeper than this, late emerging, irregular stands (especially
small seeded crops such as alfalfa, clovers, grass and the like) will result. The basic rule of
thumb for seeding alfalfa is at to inch on most soils. On sandy soils up to inch is fine. A
firm seedbed helps to maintain a level-shallow seeding profile that helps maintain a uniform
seeding depth while maintaining soil-moisture. Seeding on a level, firm, prepared seedbed is a
great system for alfalfa on level land that is not subject to sheet erosion. However, in recent
years, no-till seeding equipment and improved herbicides have given a whole new, easier
approach to successful alfalfa plantings. One of the neatest systems I have seen can be found in
detail in our no-till alfalfa seeding section of this web site. Study it and try it, you will like the
results. In the Midwest, a 15 to 20 pound seeding rate (mostly 15-18 pounds) is adequate and
traditional. In the Southeastern states where the soils are more acid and low in native rhizobia,
(native inoculation capability) favorable to alfalfa, a 25-30 pound rate is standard. This same rate
is normal in the irrigated far west where much of alfalfa hay is marketed as a commercial crop
and the denser alfalfa stand and resulting competition helps to control weeds. What about using
a nurse crop of small grain on prepared seedbeds? Only where erosion is expected to occur
and even then, the planting rate should be kept to a minimum and harvest made as early in the
spring as possible to reduce competition between the alfalfa and the nurse.
6. What is the best harvest schedule for hay, silage or grazing? Until around 20 years ago, bloom
stage was the main harvest signal. Later, a 35-day schedule developed by researchers in
Pennsylvania and perfected by farmers all through the Northeast and later copied by growers all
around the USA. Persistence was good in both systems and hay quality and yields varied widely
but were satisfactory at the time. Crude protein was expected to be in the 14-18% range and
digestibility at 50-65%. In recent years harvest systems have been changed again. In many
places farmers, especially dairy farmers want higher quality hay and silage and are harvesting on
a 28-30 day interval sequence. The increased refinement in plant breeding has allowed farmers
to make these more frequent harvests without sacrificing their stands prematurely. The addition
of more disease and insect resistance and quicker plant recovery has made the big difference.
As a result, hay and silage harvest intervals are more frequent and the feed quality is improved.
Timing the first spring/early summer harvest of established stands is the secret to more harvests,
increased quality, and higher yields. Top producers are making the first harvest at bud to early
bloom. The following harvests then fall into place nicely at a 28-30 day (monthly) schedule.
Producers who have historically harvested three cuttings before the late summer rest period now
find they can harvest four crops each summer. And growers in warmer climates will now have
additional cuts as well. If and when you can afford a temporary drop in quality, allow one crop to
go to 35+ days in order to build food reserves during the production season. This trick will aid in
persistence. Since there is a definite drop in quality, why not have this rest period occur during
the low yielding (mid-summer) season? The harvest schedule for newly established fall seedings
that are growing well may assume the same schedule as above. However new spring seedings
should grow for at least 65-70 days and be in the bloom stage before the first hay or silage
harvest. The second and subsequent harvests may mirror established stands when the regrowth
is vigorous. When grazing cattle on grazing tolerant alfalfas, the more experienced grazers have
moved to more frequent rotation intervals. These new alfalfas are much more resilient than those
of the past, but my advice is still dont push them too far, alfalfa still needs time to build food

reserves between harvests and at the end of the season when persistence is important to a
7. Insects and diseases can destroy established alfalfa fields when left uncontrolled. Be sure to
study the current publications at your county agricultural agents office that originate at your state
university for scouting your alfalfa fields. Before and during the hay and silage production and
harvest season, WALK, dont drive your fields at least once a week. That way, you can stay on
top and be in control of insect problems and fertility deficiencies and become aware of possible
disease problems. Acquire a copy of the color publication Alfalfa Analyst that is produced and
distributed by the Alfalfa Council. If you would like a copy, call us at 1-800-873-2532 and we will
either send you a copy (if we have some on hand) or direct you to the current source where you
can order it yourself. This will be one of the best publications you will ever find for use by farmers
and professionals alike. Those who already use it call it their alfalfa disease, insect, and fertility
bible. While we are on this subject of scouting, buy a sweep-net and have your agricultural agent
or someone else who knows how to use it help you identify the bugs that are giving your alfalfa a
fit. The potato leafhopper will be your prime target most years. In much of the country the alfalfa
weevil population has dropped in recent years. But you can never count this one out.
Suggestion: you should start looking for the weevil when you see the weevil population building
then get on with the treatments that are advised. I have been fighting the weevil since 1963 and
the best environmental indicator to supplement field inspection is to watch for apple blossoms.
Yes, the blossoms open at about the same time that the alfalfa weevil begins to feed on alfalfa
leaves. There must be half-dozen insecticides recommended for control of this weevil. Consult
the current list put together by your Entomology Department and available at your County
Agents office.
8. If the fields you plan to plant to alfalfa are contaminated with broadleaf perennial weeds, bring
them under control ahead of seeding. Why? The herbicides that control these weeds will also kill
alfalfa. So my suggestion is if you have the problem, take some extra time, maybe a whole crop
year to bring them under control. Until recent years, an equal problem or in many instances an
even larger problem existed with annual (usually summer) grasses such as crabgrass. But this
problem has been greatly reduced with the introduction of grassy weed control herbicides. Pick
up a copy of your universitys weed control publication for alfalfa at your county agents office and
follow the recommendations.
9. Alfalfa is a perennial legume. That is the
crown and roots are both perennial, however
the top is a portion of an annual depending on
how many times it is defoliated (harvested and
grazed) in a years time. To keep the plants
healthy and productive, special care for the
underground parts of the plants is necessary. A
crucial management system includes a rest
period of five to six 6 weeks prior to the historic
hard freeze dates (temperatures of 23-24
degrees F for 2 consecutive nights). The
temptation to harvest during the period prior to
the historic freeze dates especially in years
when the growth is exceptionally good and the
barns are not full of hay and or hay prices are
sky high is real tempting.
Why not wait until the freeze hits if you are determined to make the cutting. After two to four days
the crop will wilt then you can more safely make the harvest. The forage may be hard to dry to
good hay moisture levels but it does make great silage. The down side is the hay or silage yields
the following year will be reduced by about the same amount that you remove during this offseason. Should you decide to graze the residual growth, watch and prepare to control bloat. The
same precautions need to be exercised as when grazing as in the early spring/summer. Pre-fill
the animals with dry hay and condition them to the grazing by allowing access for short periods
until they get accustomed to the feed. This is a great time to also have Poloxolene for them.
(Bloat Guard is a product that most farmers are familiar with). Also remember that hungry
emaciated cattle and sheep are especially vulnerable.
So now you have it. I have tried my best to touch all of the important phases that lead to
consistent high yields. The basic issues are: use good land, elevate pH to 6.5-7.0, remove
fertility as a limiting factor, water is so important especially when making late summer/early fall
plantings under dry soil conditions and/or when you want to hit the highest possible yields and
irrigation is practical and available. Be selective in picking the best varieties for your farm and
program, and plant your alfalfa seed shallow and with extreme care and precision. Harvest
sensibly to get the highest possible quality without terminating the stand prematurely, control
weeds and insects, and pay particular attention to fall management to give roots and crowns
favored treatment.

Rescuing Alfalfa Stands


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
Regardless of how hard we try, alfalfa stands do thin with time. Why? They thin because of poor
soil selection and use, insects, diseases, fertility stress, and poor and hay, silage and grazing
management decisions are some of the major reasons stands of alfalfa do thin over time.
When Stands Drop to This Level, it is Time for Action!

When an alfalfa stand gets off to a poor start, it is possible to reseed or thicken a stand in the
following planting season. However, after the field has gone through at least one production year,
the malady known as autotoxicity (an allelopathy) infects and kills the new seedlings as they
emerge. The infection is born in the old alfalfa plant residue (leaves, stems and roots). The
disease effects not only the establishment but also hangs on and continues to infect the plants
that do survive at the cost of yield and stand reduction. This is the problem when professionals
tell you that you cannot successfully follow alfalfa immediately with alfalfa and have a successful
alfalfa planting. Once an area is infected and the stand is in shambles, the field should be planted
to a row crop for at least one year before returning to alfalfa. When water erosion is not a
problem, two years out of alfalfa is better than one year.
New Seedings:
You can thicken an alfalfa stand that is one season old most of the time. Should you have an
unacceptable establishment in a fall seeding for instance, a seeding the following spring should
be fine. If you should miss on a spring seeding, a fall planting will work as well. But if you try to
stretch the re-plant to a year or more, forget it. Rather you should go to a row crop if the land is
suitable for at least one crop year (two is better) to eliminate the malady.
If you should decide to thicken the new stand, be sure to drill the seed at to inch depth. A notill drill is the best equipment, but watch the depth! These drills are heavy and are adapted to
seeding grasses and legumes even in un-tilled and grass sods. Use the original seeding rate.
Spot seeding rarely works since spot harvests are hard if not impossible to time for best forage
quality and plant survival. However if you should decide to spot seed harvest the first crop later
than normal to allow the newer plants time to become well established.
Older alfalfa stands:
The first action should be to check the soil pH and levels of phosphate and potash. There is no
substitute for current soil tests and solid advice in the form of recommendations from a qualified
professional to correct deficits if they exist.

Keep in mind that older fields need to be handled quite

differently than younger fields. Walk the field and about
every 50-100 steps, stop and look down between you
shoes and count the plants and record your number. Do
this in at least 20 places in the field. If your average is
10-14 plants in those areas, the stand is great and get
ready for a fantastic forage harvest this year. If on the
other hand the plant count is less 10-14, go to our web
site and pull up the publication entitled, Evaluating &
Managing Established Alfalfa Stands from our website
or call and ask for one at 1-800-873-2532. Take those numbers you wrote down on your walk
and go through the publication and decide what measures you can take.
You will note in the publication when the stands are thinning, we have suggested that you drill
adapted cool season grasses into the alfalfa stands to replace weeds. Red clover also works
where it is adapted and can help to extend the life of the field for hay for another year or two. The
grass will usually survive much longer. Again, should you decide to keep the field for another
season or two, dont forget to lime and fertilize as needed.
When should you plow alfalfa and go to another crop? For many farmers, it is a matter of a set
crop rotation system. For others its a matter of yields, accessibility, etc. My rule of thumb has
always been when the annual hay yield is less than four tons per acre, plow it under and plant the
field to a row crop. Not only will you rid the soil of the autotoxicity malady, you will be able to
harvest the nitrogen and the organic matter that the alfalfa has produced. The corn crop will be a
dandy and the fertilizer nitrogen cost will reduced considerably.

Alfalfa Production and Management
Questions and Answers
Over the years, I have fielded more questions
dealing with production and management of alfalfa
than all other problems put together. If you are a
novice alfalfa grower or a producer of long
experience, I bet you have faced or still face many
of the puzzles listed below.

Q: What is the best information source to decide what fields are best suited for alfalfa?
A: Your own experience or the experience of a grower near your farm who own the same soil
conditions. Too, the folks at your local NRCS office usually have maps of every area in your
county. They will help you decide which areas are best suited.
Q: Why is it necessary to soil test a year or more before seeding?
A: To alter the pH (lime) takes 12-18 months especially if the tests are in the range of 5.6-5.8 or
lower and when using conventional quality agricultural limestone. There is a shortcut if you
choose. Very finely ground, high-grade limestone CAN bridge the time gap but the costs are
higher. Check with your supplier for rate substitutions and costs.
Q: When can I apply needed phosphate and potash on new alfalfa seedings?
A: When the tests shows a need for high rates, put some on ahead of seeding. Otherwise you
can make the applications at or just following planting. On prepared seedbeds, you will get a
good response to 25-40 pounds of commercial nitrogen at seeding but none will be needed once
the stand is established. Do not use nitrogen when no-till seeding alfalfa into old grass fields.
Q: What are the most violated rules in seeding alfalfa?
A: Timing (seeding too late) and burying the seed, ideal depth is to inch in normal soil and
inch in sandy soils.
Q: What are the best seeding times?
A: Fall about 5-6 weeks ahead of the historic killing freeze date. Spring seedings can be made as
soon as the frost is out of the ground.
Q: What is the best alfalfa variety for my farm?

A: Use a variety that is adapted in your area that yields well and persists in valid variety trials. Do
not rely on varieties that are available or because of price; it will be costlier in the long run. When
you select a top performer, you can expect to ton higher hay yields. On a five year 20 acre
field and $85 a ton hay, that adds up to ($6500+) net above any added seed cost.
Q: If I am going to graze, what do I look for?
A: Use ONLY the valid grazing tolerant varieties. Avoid the me-too varieties. Ask your seed
dealer to see the validation data!
Q: Can I make hay and silage from the grazing tolerant varieties and how do they stack up
in yield and persistence?
A: Yes, our grazing tolerant varieties make excellent quality hay and silage and in recent years,
annual yields and persistence are tops in the industry.
Q: How much alfalfa seed do I need to sow for a good stand?
A: The accepted and tried and proven per acre seeding rates vary from region to region. In most
of the country the standard per acre rate is 15-18 lbs. The far west and southern states, the
seeded rate is 25-35lbs per acre. In the dry non-irrigated (arid) regions, rates are lower (about
half the 15-18 pound rate).
Q: When is it wise to grow grass with alfalfa and which grass should I use?
A: When you graze, grass helps to control bloat and reduce animal treading damage. Grass also
helps control sheet erosion on steep slopes especially when alfalfa stands begin to fade.
Q: What grass works best with alfalfa?
A: If you can grow it, orchardgrass is ideal. It is a cool season plant that produces very well
during the alfalfa growth season.
Q: Are there other grasses that grow well with alfalfa?
A: Yes but not usually as productive and easy to use. The others are: timothy, smooth
bromegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, and with constant care in the south and southwest,
Q: Why should I top-dress fertilize alfalfa?
A: To increase yields and persistence.
Q: When and how much fertilizer should I apply on established alfalfa?
A: Top-Dress after the last fall harvest seems to be the best time for the alfalfa and workload as
well. If not then, early spring before growth starts. When you must resort fertilizing during
growing season, make the application(s) as soon as the hay is removed and within the 5-7 day
window following harvest.
Q: Do the new traffic tolerant varieties resist traffic damage?
A: Of course they do. But this is not a license to see if you CAN harm an established alfalfa
crop. Even though the damage will be less that when abusing non-traffic tolerant varieties, follow
the guidelines in the complete article on traffic damage.
Q: What is the top (realistic) annual hay yield?
A: With irrigation and all other details tended to perfection 10-12 tons per acre annually is not
out of reach. But seldom do we experience yields this high other than in test-plots. A realistic
goal could be closer to 7-8 tons per acre/year for 4-5 years.
Q: Can I thicken an alfalfa stand that I seeded last year?
A: Yes if you get the seed in the ground inside the 12-month window. You can either start over
and re-prepare the seedbed or if you have access to a no-till drill, use it. Should you have
volunteer plants, harvest to accommodate the younger plants by harvesting when they are in
early-mid bloom and ignore the older plants that may be beyond bloom. The feed quality will be
down a bit but you do have a better chance of saving the new seedlings.
Q: What about thickening up old alfalfa stands with alfalfa?
A: Autotoxicity will likely rule this out. My suggestion; plow the stand and go to grain crops for a
couple of years or drill red clover to fill the open spaces for a year

Grazing Tolerant Alfalfa

It All Started With Alfagraze

How Alfalfa Makes Pastures a Profitable
Soil Conserving Crop


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa

Production 101

Before 1990, farmers who grazed alfalfa had to rely on

grazing hay varieties, thats all that was available at that
time. Persistence was then and still remains a problem
when grazing these varieties. Most farmers who grazed
alfalfa back then usually did so as stands began to fail.
Those few who wanted to graze alfalfa tried the very
dormant varieties such as Rambler, Trevois, Roamer,
and Rhizoma. This very dormant variety class was low
yielding and not well adapted for the Midwest and the
Upper South. With this experience as background to
grazing alfalfa, it was only natural that farmers and
professionals equated grazing types with low yields and
alfalfa as an unsuitable and unreliable grazing legume.

In 1990, Alfagraze alfalfa, the first ever true grazing tolerant alfalfa by the University of Georgia
Department of Crops and Soil Science. The researcher who developed the variety was Dr. Joe
Bouton. The release of Alfagraze put an end to lack of persistence under grazing and held
production level to match or exceed most hay type varieties when both were mechanically
Using animals as an integral part of the breeding program was a very unique and practical
system to build-in persistence. To better explain the process, the following is a brief explanation
of the system he used to develop Alfagraze, the first true grazing tolerant alfalfa variety.
1. The original selection nurseries were planted in grazing paddocks in the fall of 1978. The
parental base consisted of 22 currently used alfalfa varieties as well as 1100 USDA plant
introductions. This nursery was grazed continuously and intensively for the next three summers
(May-September). The best surviving, high-yielding plants were selected and inter-mated. Their
offspring were then planted into another grazing paddock where they were grazed for two years.
At the end of the second selection cycle, 32 plants survived. Note: In these two cycles, Dr.
Bouton started with an estimated 5 million plants yet only 32 plants lived and became the
germplasm base. Another way to look at the system: Alfagraze was made from one surviving
plant for every 200,000 plants originally seeded. Is there any wonder that Alfagraze has done so
2. In the fall of 1986, Dr. Bouton established a series of five, small plot, grazing experiments
where persistence under grazing and dry-matter yields were both evaluated against some of the
most widely used and productive varieties on the market.
3. These studies, conducted at different locations, ran for a minimum of two years. All of the plots
were continuously grazed by cattle for at least 140 days each year. The data was clear, intense
grazing thinned stands and reduced productivity of all varieties except Alfagraze.
4. The final research evaluation phase was initiated in 1988 when large-scale animal
performance trials (replicated two acre paddocks) were established. In these trials against
popular used varieties, stocking rates and stand survival of Alfagraze was superior and its
animal performance was outstanding (average daily gains of 2.2 pounds per day for four months
and a total of 530 pounds of beef production per acre for the season). This beef performance
was in addition to the 1.5 tons of hay harvested (per acre) in the spring each year before grazing.
Note: These procedures took time, patience, and careful analysis to prove the worth of Alfagraze.
This same system has been used to develop the varieties, AmeriGraze 401+Z and AmeriStand
403T, AmeriGraze 201+Z, and AmeriGraze 702. Currently, other varieties are in various stages
that mirror this system of development by our plant breeder Dr. Jim Moutray and his associates. I
will deal with these later in this manuscript..
As far back as the early 1970s farmers in much of the grazing belt had found that growing
legumes with perennial grass increased beef cattle gains and milk flow at lower costs. Their
problem was finding legumes that yielded well and survived with grass for three or more years.

Alfagraze came on the market in 1992. With publicity based on field experiences and farmers
hunger for a better legume to graze, Americas Alfalfa Inc sold out of seed the first planting
season. Over a decade later, the Alfagraze is still being planted and has become one of the most
popular alfalfa varieties that has ever been released and leads all other varieties when alfalfa is
grown for grazing.
In an effort to get an on-farm evaluation of grazing alfalfa in the early 1990s, we established 62
successful on-farm dairy, beef, sheep and wildlife grazing test demonstrations in 37 states with
the assistance of forage extension specialists, county agents, and local seed dealers and
distributor representatives. The basic objective was to test the grazing tolerance trait under real
farming conditions. We also wanted to pass along these findings to farmers and professionals at
the local, regional and national levels. Obviously, our objective was to find and develop an
expanded alfalfa seed market. Grazing was without doubt, the best opening to do this. Since
Alfagraze was the only valid grazing variety, hay producing varieties were all that we had to use
at the time for comparison. We used the most prominent and highest yielding varieties grown on
farms at that time. We were especially careful to use varieties that had been entered frequently
in experimental grazing trials for comparison. In a few instances we were able to include varieties
that were advertised as grazing varieties yet valid published data was or seemed to be lacking.
After two and up to three years of production, ratings at each location were taken and released to
the public.
1. Grazing tolerance (GT) is a real and independent trait.
2. The GT trait has a higher endurance level than any tested variety whether grazed rotationally
or continuously.
3. Once established, the GT varieties live longer and are more durable whether harvested as
grazing, hay or silage. Contrary to earlier professional assumptions, Alfagraze yielded with the
best of hay varieties when harvested as hay. The newer varieties taken from this parentage rank
in the top 10% of tested varieties in yield when mechanically harvested.
4. The GT varieties produce higher meat and milk per acre and forage yields over a longer
period of time than any other legume.
5. Compatible cool season grasses help to reduce treading and traffic damage during grazing
seasons especially under wet soil conditions. Likewise, these same grasses are extremely
helpful in diluting/reducing the incidence of bloat.
6. These GT varieties, when harvested mechanically have been proven to have higher
resistance to mechanical traffic damage.
7. Wildlife enthusiasts have found that GT varieties are great forage for wild deer. Food plots of
one to ten acres (sometimes larger) are being seeded every year, nationwide. The big
advantages of alfalfa include better conception rate, increased summer grazing quality and
increased carcass quality and weight as well as rack-quality are reported.
8. Restrictive (rotational) grazing produces more meat and milk per acre than continuous
grazing. Also, stands remain more uniform with less weed intrusion.
The fear of bloat causes many farmers to shy away from grazing alfalfa. Even though alfalfa is
about half as bloat-hazardous as white clover, it remains a concern. Here are some tips that I
have used for years to help guide growers on dealing with bloat and keeping it to a minimum:
1. When animals are hungry, especially when they are emaciated, they are sure to over-eat.
When you get ready to start the first round of grazing or interrupted grazing sequences, pre-fill
them with free choice dry hay well ahead of field entry. (Many experienced grazers keep hay in
front of cattle at all times).
2. Restrict the initial grazing entry to perhaps 30-45 minutes daily. Increase their field-time as
they adjust.
3. Remain in the field with the animals while you are breaking-them-in.
4. Use Poloxolene (Bloat Guard is a familiar product) according to instructions prior to and during
5. Sell chronic bloaters while they are still among the living. There is conclusive evidence that
bloat is heritable and can be passed on to the next generation(s).
When will bloat-free alfalfa varieties come on the market? Some Canadian researchers have
already come up with some lines of alfalfa that have reduced bloating potentials (in the ballpark
of 60-70%). In my judgment, it will be quite a while to get to the 95-100% level. Chances are it
will come along with some form of biotechnological development that can take 10-20 years or
My advice: if you want the best possible meat and milk production per acre from grazing at the
least possible costs, include grazing tolerant alfalfa in your pastures and follow the best
management guidelines available. The basic guidelines are published in other sections of my
lecture series.

It is my judgment the biggest breakthrough in alfalfa breeding in the past 50 years was the
development and release of Alfagraze. The entire concept that brings in outside pressures and
find durable and productive forage species at the same time, weed-out weak traits that will not
allow plants to persist under normal farm pressure. In recent years, insect and disease
resistance has been added to this concept which has resulted in tougher, high yielding, more
persistent series of varieties that also make alfalfa easier to grow and to use without fear of
premature crop failures.
In recent years, we are beginning to see plant breeders use this same concept to improve the life
span, yields and use in other legumes and even cool season grasses. We are in for some
exciting times and the technology gained from the system to produce torture resistant Alfagraze
will be recognized by farmers all across the USA and perhaps around the World as the
cornerstone for persistence and yield of forages under pressure.
I speak for all who have watched and have used the results of Dr. Bouton s findings, thank you
Joe you sure did well!

The New Grazing/Traffic Tolerant Varieties

are Loaded With Benefits
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Our original thought when we saw Alfagraze for the first

time was, is this too good to be true? Do you mean that
there really is an alfalfa that can survive under cattle
grazing for four years or more? Are the dry weight yields
when harvested as hay average or above?
Thats what went through my mind the first time I saw
Alfagraze in grazing plots in Eatonton Georgia in the
summer of 1990. What Dr. Joe Bouton and associates at
the University of Georgia had accomplished was sure to
change the way farmers think and grow and use alfalfa.
For now we had a trait that would allow growers to use alfalfa for grazing and harvest hay from
the same fields without early stand losses.
At last there was an acceptable high yielding legume that would/should grow well with perennial
grasses and remain in stands for more than one to two years which had been our experience
when growing red clover or white clover with grass for grazing. With time and farm experience, it
only stood to reason that growers could now produce higher livestock gains and great milk yields
at low costs. The job ahead at that time was to demonstrate this concept to farmers and
professionals and see where it would lead.
As we poked through the data from the original studies, we found that when this new alfalfa (later
named Alfagraze) was harvested as hay, the yields and feed quality were both substantial. So we
at Americas Alfalfa figured we just might be on to a whole new concept that could mean even
more to all growers than just grazing. Later that year, we bid for and were awarded the
production and marketing rights on Alfagraze by the University of Georgia.
By following the systems used to breed Alfagraze, our Director of Research and plant breeder,
Dr. Jim Moutray and his staff set off on a new mission. Their goal was to increase pest
resistance, (especially diseases and insects), and improve dormancy to comply more favorably
with more regions. A primary goal as always was to increase yields when grazed or harvested as
hay or silage, and to further increase grazing tolerance and persistence.
In a little over a decade, they were able to accomplish all of these goals. The first releases were
AmeriGraze 401+Z which has a very wide range of adaptation from the mid-south regions to the
central mid-western states. Other varieties such as AmeriStand 201+Z for the more northern
regions and AmeriGraze 702 for the southern states were added to the variety stable.

In 1998, Jim and the staff of breeders discovered that the lines selected under intense grazing
pressure were tolerant of wheel traffic when the alfalfa was harvested for hay or haylage. They
also found that the intensive traffic pressure of four or more harvests each year and the use of
heavy equipment favored those lines with traffic tolerance in endurance as well as yield.
So now we have an alfalfa of almost unbelievable traits of toughness and yield. The first variety
with all of the desired traits to hit the market was AmeriStand 403 T. Since then, the use of this
variety by growers all through the humid alfalfa belt has grown by leaps and bounds. You can
see for yourself what the data looks like, click onto our website www.americasalfalfa.com. After
you see these data and you want to give it a try, get to your distributor or dealer and put you
name in the pot. We invite you to keep abreast of our developments for more improving varieties
are sure to follow in the years ahead.
AND, it all started with Alfagraze!

Grazing Tips for Beginners and Long time

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Whether this is your first year or if you have been grazing

alfalfa for several years, there are some must do plans
that have to be executed to make this program a fine and
profitable experience. The first is to plant a grazing
tolerant alfalfa variety at a seeding rate of 15 pounds or
more (depending on where you live and the customary
seeding rate for that area). If you expect to be successful
grazing alfalfa and if you are not using a grazing tolerant
variety from our stable of varieties, you already have one
foot in the grave and another on a banana peeling.
Grazing alfalfa really took off with the introduction of
Alfagraze in 1990.
Since then, there have been several varieties added to our stable of varieties. Some of the more
prominent ones are: AmeriGraze 401+Z, Amerigraze 702, AmeriGraze 201+Z, and AmeriStand
403T. Review our website to see which one(s) fits your area.
If yours is a new alfalfa seeding made this last spring, it is best to harvest the first crop for hay.
Haying keeps the animals from rummaging around the fields and allows the plants to get better
established. Also, making hay and delaying grazing also helps to better use early growth and
related possible bloat problems.
Managing an older alfalfa stand and even those made last fall as grazing is in some ways a
mirror of the first year except for the first grazing. You can start grazing these older fields when
the alfalfa is as small as 6 inches. As the growth exceeds animal needs, reduce the size of the
pasture by adding temporary fencing. Continue to add fences to reduce the acreage needed to
adapt to animal needs. When surplus grazing occurs, cut it for hay. Does this mean that I
recommend rotational grazing over continuous grazing? Of course it does. Rotational gazing is
more profitable and easier to manage than continuous grazing. It also gives you a better chance
to fully manage the vegetation better than the cattle.
With the advent of new and easy to install and move electric fencing makes rotation-confined
grazing so much cheaper and easy to manipulate. Add to this the refinement of mobile water
supplying systems and the costs and labor and you have a simple system that really makes
Now lets deal with bloat. I am not running up a red flag. I just want to help you avoid the obvious
lack of experienced judgment in a practical tried and proven system. 1) Never turn hungry
emaciated cattle on lush, wet, alfalfa especially on cool days and leave them untended. 2 Pre-fill
them with good quality dry hay or bulk feed. 3) Put animals in a field for short-supervised periods
until they get adjusted to this fantastic grazing. 4) Poloxolene fed prior to and during grazing

according to recommendations reduces bloat. Cattle that are prone to continue to puff need to
be sold. These animals are considered chronic bloaters and sooner or later they will likely to hit
the dirt. Also, if these chronic bloaters are breeding animals, chances are their calf crop will have
this same malady as well. Research and experience has shown that bloat is hereditary.

Making Pastures a Crop

When Alfalfa is Added, Pasture
Profits Soar
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

For over a half-century, farmers in the grazing belt

(mainly the central states) who are serious about making
pastures into a profitable crop have turned to legumes for
both animal performance and profits. Until Alfagraze
came along, the farmers had to rely on short life span
clovers and other legumes to get this kick. Now, for those
same farmers can rely on longer living legumes in the
form of Alfagraze and a stable of grazing tolerant alfalfas
that include AmeriGraze 401+Z and AmeriStand 403 T for
the (mid-states) AmeriGraze 702 (for the deep south),
and AmeriGraze 201+Z for the Northern Midwest.

No longer is it necessary for the few who graze alfalfa hay-varieties (mainly the older and fading
residual stands) to rely on these for grazing. Today, you have access to alfalfa selections that are
designed for grazing in your area. Growers can now expect high yields throughout the grazing
season, resistance to drought, and long time persistence-durability with this stable of grazers.
Farmers still grow red clover and white clover, (including ladino clover) in most of the humid
USA. Many of these same growers supplement their clovers and grass with lespedeza, (annual
and perennial). Birdsfoot trefoil is grown primarily in the northern states. Winter annual clovers
such as crimson clover and arrowleaf clover and a few others of lesser interest are grown mainly
in the southeastern states. These legumes and a few others have become the legumes of choice
because they are available and are easy to grow. But now we have Alfagraze and its stable of
grazing tolerant varieties, alfalfa that are sure to become the centerpiece of the most profitable
pasture CROPS.
Should grasses be added to legumes when grazing? In most cases the answer is yes. Grasses
simply survive more stress, especially grazing abuse and lower fertility. They reduce or dilute the
chances of bloat and protect the soil better from tramping and compaction. They do however
often crowd the less stable legumes and are high, higher than legumes in potassium
requirements. With these faults it is easier to manage and safer to use an adapted grass-legume
mix than to cope with managing a legume by itself.

The Alfalfa Grazing Season in Just Around

the Corner
Managing Alfalfa for Grazing Throughout
the Pasture Seasons
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Alfalfa for grazing has taken on a whole new meaning

since the variety Alfagraze was introduced in 1990. This
lecture deals with how to manage a seeding for grazing

whether it is a new spring seeding or fall seeding or an

older seeding and how to manage bloat.
New Spring Seedings: Plantings that were made this
spring should be cut for hay the first time, not grazed.
Reason, the ground is soft and tramping damage can be
rough (even plant cleavage) can occur with livestock on
this new seeding that is only about 60-70 days old.

Haying is usually less damaging to the soil and the first crop so long as the ground is firm. The
seeding should be in late bud to early bloom in eight to nine weeks after emergence and ready
for harvest.
Depending on the weather, you can plan on grazing following crops at three to four week
intervals and beginning when the alfalfa is 10-12 high. In areas where cold winters are the norm,
remove the animals at least four weeks ahead of the historic freeze dates for winter plant
protection. If you want to graze after that freeze, be sure to guard against bloat by easing them
onto a field for short periods and always pre-fill with good quality free-choice hay. You may want
to feed Poloxolene (Bloat Guard is a familiar name brand) for further protection against bloat.
The feed quality of the alfalfa is good and the animals are likely to gorge themselves when
grazing the early spring growth. So you should follow the same rules in fall as in the spring, any
time you introduce or interrupt the grazing program. In areas of the Deep South where mild
winters prevail and when growing non-dormant varieties, grazing throughout the winter can
continue so long as there is something to graze.
New Fall Seedings that have wintered-well and are growing and establishing well can be
grazed or hayed on the first growth. Just be sure the soils are firm so that treading damage will
be kept to a minimum. Follow all of the rules of grazing/cattle management on these stands just
like the fields that are already one or more years old.
Grazing Older Alfalfa Stands is much simpler. You can put the animals in to graze the first crop
when the growth is about six inches tall if you like. This earlier grazing will help to reduce the
early emerging alfalfa weevils. It will also help to set the grazing pattern in motion for the year. At
that time, you can start to determine how large and how many paddocks you will need to use
most of the feed thus reduce the amount of unused forage.
Grazing rotationally is a must if you want the easy way to get the most production from each
area. With new flexible/electric fencing and mobile watering programs, there is no reason that
rotational grazing cannot be used economically and to your advantage.
Control and Manage Bloat: There is no reason to let bloat or the fear of bloat be the reason for
not grazing alfalfa. The animal response is too positive for the sacrifice you will make to not grow
it. Now that we understand that bloat is real and must be guarded against, lets look as some of
the most measures to do to reduce its negative effects.
1) Avoid grazing when the weather is cool and the vegetation is wet and cattle are hungry. If you
feel you must graze at this time, be sure to watch your animals closely. Avoid early grazing
before noontime if at all possible. Early morning is the prime bloat period when the feed quality
and intake is the highest and cattle are usually hungry.
2) Move attended animals into alfalfa pastures for short periods initially and increase the field
time gradually until they get accustomed to the forage. Stay in the field with them so that if
suspect animals show signs of bloating, they can be moved quickly. If certain ones continue to
bloat, sell them. Sooner or later, they are likely to hit the dirt.
3) Pre-fill animals with dry hay and when possible keep it available to the animals through the
grazing season.
4) Feed poloxolene prior to and during the grazing season.
5) Compatible cool-season grasses such as orchardgrass helps to reduce the incidence of bloat.
You may want to no-till seed 4-6 pounds per acre in the early fall if you have a straight stand of
alfalfa and are going to graze it in the future.
6) Once animals are accustomed to alfalfa and you have sold the chronic bloaters, keep them on
it and trust bloat inhibitors and/or grazing dilutions with hay and grass to help control the
7) Bloat is hereditary. Most farmers have known this for years. They know that sooner or later, a
cow that bloats needs to be culled if she continues to show this malady.
A study that was conducted several years ago at the Dixon Springs Illinois Experiment Station to
look at the contribution and risks legumes make in animal production. In this study, they used

white clover as the legume (it was the only non-annual legume that was available at that time)
and the grass was tall fescue. Their four-year results showed that the white clover caused 1.41.5% of the cattle to bloat. Yet, the returns from white clover and grass added 4.5% to the value
in net gains in meat produced over the remainder of the herd that grazed on straight grass with
commercial nitrogen added. Sorry, I dont remember what percent of the cattle that died from
bloat. Knowing how careful the scientists were in conducting their experiments, I would expect
that darned few bit the dust. But these losses were figured into the equation to show the
improvement that legumes made in the grazing mix.
Just for the record, white clover is higher in bloat potential than any other frequently grazed
legumes. On a scale of 1 to 10 with the higher number meaning increased incidence of bloat,
white clover scores a 10. Alfalfa alone about 6.5-7.0 and is dropped to less than half this number
when grown in a mix with grasses. Birdsfoot trefoil comes in at about 1.0, red clover at 3.0.
Lespedeza is not known to be bloat prone.

Continuous or Rotational Grazing Alfalfa

Which One Works Best?
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

When you graze alfalfa as the base legume in your

pastures for the first time rather than any other legume,
you are going to be surprised and pleased with the
results. Beef cattle will gain more and faster and dairy
cows will produce milk cheaper and labor costs will drop
and your profits are sure to increase.
When alfalfa is used for grazing, will you graze
rotationally or will you continuously graze?

Until the early 1990s, the only alfalfa varieties that were available for grazing or stored feed were
developed for mechanical harvest. When those fields were grazed continuously, stands faded
badly, as soon as one or two years.
It is different now when growing Alfagraze and varieties of our more recently released grazing
tolerant lines. Rest periods while helpful, are not quite as imperative as in the past. But dont let
this fool you. Any time you can allow food reserves to build especially late in the season, plant
health (even the grazing tolerant lines) is improved.
Rotational grazing is the best way to get the most feed and profits out of alfalfa. With the
development, introduction, and use of easier to install and manipulate fencing and water,
accessing small areas is cheaper, simpler to establish, and maintain. From what farmers and
forage specialists around the USA tell us, there are many good reasons for choosing intensive
(rotational) grazing over continuous grazing: 1) the crop is easier to manage and the farmer is in
charge, not the herd, 2) confinement to smaller areas forces the animals to eat more of the
vegetation and waste less, 3) profits per acre are increased, 4. Weeds are easier to control, 5)
grazing periods at beginning and end of the seasons are extended, 6) surplus grazing can be
more easily harvested as hay and silage, 7) manure is more evenly distributed when animals are
confined to smaller areas.
Continuous Grazing on the other hand does not require movable fencing. Cattle have free
access to larger areas sometimes for the grazing season or as long as the grazing season runs.
The end result to continuous grazing is that the livestock (stocking) rates are less and profits are
less. Before Alfagraze came along, it was imperative that rest or recuperation periods were
necessary to build food reserves in the roots and crowns for regrowth and stand persistence.
The only way to achieve persistence when these varieties were pastured was to mimic the usual
harvest sequence and rotationally graze. Even though the grazing tolerant alfalfas will tolerate
continuous grazing, you can expect more profits with rotational grazing.

Harvest Surplus Grazing for Hay and

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

If you are grazing your alfalfa rotationally, there will be

times when you have more grazing than you need.
When the weather gets hot and rains come more slowly
you may need all of the acreage. If you have surplus,
cut it for hay or silage it is wonderful feed to help carry
your cattle through a drought or next winter.
If the crop is growing rapidly, you may want to graze the
fields more frequently. Later on in the summer, you may
need to alter your cycle pattern depending on heat and
But for goodness sake, dont let any of this top quality feed to go to waste. Cut and bale it when
you know you dont need it for grazing this time around.
During the summer months, it is even more important that the cattle be confined to small areas
when grazing. Otherwise, they will not clean the fields and meat or milk production drops. I see
many farmers who have had years experience at grazing combine a couple of grazing areas in
the summertime to better access water and shade. Even though carrying capacity is reduced the
benefits derived from accessible water and shade they find is worth the switch.
What about mowing after grazing? For at least three to four decades I have heard this question
argued should we or shouldnt we? I have to say yes, I think you should mow if there is a buildup of rejected, stemy forage after grazing. I have yet to see cattle or sheep return to an area and
eat forage they have already refused to eat until new growth exceeds the remnants of the old
growth. By the way, when you mow the rejected grazing, mow it close. Cattle dont relish 3 to 5
inch mature stems constantly sticking their in their face and noses as they graze.
So in the big management picture, why not extend the use of your grazing system by harvesting
surplus growth for storage. Grazing is the cheapest way to harvest forages and provide the
highest nutrition possible. But weather does change and production does bounce around and
sooner or later supplementation is likely to be necessary. So harvest those surplus-grazing areas
that are growing beyond current animal needs and make some hay for a rainy or a dry or cold

Manipulating Summer Alfalfa Grazing


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
As hard as they try, folks who graze cattle run short or long on forage
for their herds nearly every summer. Here are some hints of how to
work around these problems.
If you see or think you are going to run short on grazing:
1) Subdivide paddocks again and make the livestock eat it all; (clean it
2) Restrict the time they graze on a new field. When the quality is tops,
an hour is all they need to get a fill,

especially dairy cattle that have already been fed grain at milking. After the hour, it is rest and
defecation time so move them to another area. Bedding and manure damage can reduce
carrying capacity by 30-50%
3) Open a new field, maybe even an old alfalfa or clover hay field thats not yielding up to par.
This will give your prime grazing paddocks a chance to recover for the next round of grazing.
4) Feed hay. There is no law that says hay is to be fed only in the winter.
5) With lower grain prices, this might be a good time to supplement energy with grain ( to
pound per 100 lbs. of live weight). This is especially good for beef nursing calves and growing
stocker cattle..
If you have more grazing than you need, dont waste it. Chances are you can and will need it
later in the season and certainly before the year is out.
1) Subdivide paddocks so that you can accumulate and harvest the surplus grazing for hay.
2) When you grow grazing tolerant alfalfa, these varieties can be harvested more frequently than
hay-type alfalfa varieties. Frequent harvests means less forage yields yet protein and digestibility
are increased. You are not going to kill these alfalfas with the frequent cuts. In fact we have seen
the results of harvest studies that confirm yield reduction per harvest yet retain similar yields for
the year and protein levels much higher than the usual 30-40 day intervals between cuttings.
The watchword then is to keep your grazing program flexible. You know that you are going to
have surpluses and shortages so plan for them.

Legumes, Why Use Them & Which Ones

Work Best When Grazing
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Roughly, forty years ago, forage agronomists around

much of the USA were recommending that to grow more
pastures, all it took was to apply chemical nitrogen to
grass. Then about 1955, some other university
researchers decided that in view of the certainty of rising
nitrogen prices, there was a better way to improve pasture
production by growing nitrogen when seeding legumes
and grass together. Their basic thoughts were to produce
the needed nitrogen for greater yields with the legumes
and at the same time, improve the quality of grazing and
also harvest better animal responses. Most if not all of the
research and development work on the grass/legume
complex was conducted in states where cool season
grasses such as tall fescue, orchardgrass, smooth
bromegrass, and bluegrass grew best.

Most of the work was done to improve' the quality and palatability in old tall fescue fields.
As farmers began to use this program (called pasture renovation), the cost of beef and milk
production dropped and beef cattle performance improved and farmers started realizing some

startling profits from pastures. Now, all of a sudden growers who were using the system started
paying more attention to their pastures and giving them the management and other inputs to get
both a substantial increase in income from this formerly overlooked farm resource.
The legumes that fit this program were and still are:
Red Clover. This clover had been used mostly for hay and was hardly ever considered in most
pasture mixes prior to the early 1950s. Since then, red clover has become a savior to many
farmers. While it performs mainly as a biannual, (an annual in most of the deep southern states),
it is easy to establish and can be re-established in older seedings while animals are grazing,
(usually in early spring). Also, while red clover responds exceptionally well to high fertility it does
survive and produce fairly well under marginally fertile conditions. Red clovers biggest fault is
the short life span. The best features are the ease of establishment, very substantial yields and
seldom poses problems with bloat.
White clover (including ladino clover): This clover is widely adapted, and is easy to establish. It
is a great producer of biological nitrogen. Since the seed is very small, it is quite easy to get good
soil-seed contact with minimal land preparation and is especially well adapted on soils that are
wet-natured. Also, when used for grazing, combines very well with red clover. The main
objections to white clovers are: 1) low yield especially when mechanically harvested, 2) the
growing season can be quite short when confronted with summer drought conditions, 3) bloat
potential in ruminant animals is very high. A note: we hear and read a lot about the bloat factor in
alfalfa. The fact is white clover is much higher in bloat potential than any other legume including
alfalfa. This is another reason for using it together with red clover and grasses for bloat dilution
Alfalfa: As far back as the late 1970s, the most serious pasture producers recognized a legume
was needed that yielded as well as alfalfa and persist longer than the usual couple of years at
best as was the case of red clover. The only alfalfas available were hay-types and they just
wouldnt cut-it year in and year out. Those who did try grazing alfalfa discovered that with the
slightest error in judgment and timing caused stands to fade and die. Therefore, most of the
alfalfa that was grazed was in fields that were sure to be plowed and planted to row crops. Since
then, a near panacea has developed in the form of true grazing tolerant alfalfa varieties. Today
farmers have a fine cadre of four grazing tolerant varieties that yield well under grazing and are
tolerant to wheel track damage when mechanically harvested. An added bonus is that they
combine well when seeded with cool season grasses. Alfalfa, of course does require certain
skills and soils to get it established. Yet, once established is persistent and produces higher
yields than any other legume. There are problems with bloat when carelessly managed. But
alfalfa is not as bloat prone as white clover especially when it is grown with palatable grasses.
Birdsfoot Trefoil is as near bloat proof as any legume can be. Its region of adaptation is pretty
well confined to the northern Midwest and eastern seaboard states. It is very slow to establish
but once it is established, endures for years. Annual production of trefoil is usually below red
clover and produces about half the yield of alfalfa.
Summary: Beef cattle and all other ruminant meat producers will gain better and milk cows will
produce more milk cheaper when grazing legumes and grass together in combination than when
pasturing grass alone even when abundant amounts of commercial nitrogen are applied.
Perhaps the most important legume system to come along in the last forty years was the
development and release of the grazing tolerant alfalfa variety Alfagraze. Since then, Americas
Alfalfa Inc. has released other grazing tolerant varieties that include AmeriStand 403T,
AmeriGraze 401+Z, AmeriGraze 201+Z, AmeriGraze 701, and AmeriGraze 702.

How to Graze Alfalfa


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
For many producers grazing alfalfa is not only new, it is
down right scary! Whether it is a matter of cost, fear of
bloat; or belief that grazing kills alfalfa, there are a

number of reasons many producers have for not grazing

alfalfa. Most of these reasons are the result of confusion
and a simple lack of understanding as to how to
successfully manage alfalfa for grazing. With the advent
of grazing tolerant alfalfa starting with Alfagraze, a variety
that was released in 1990, more farmers are growing
alfalfa for grazing each year.

In recent years, we have seen and visited with farmers who have switched to alfalfa from pure
grass pastures and even clovers and have now increased beef cattle daily gains on steer cattle
from 1 to 1.5 pounds with straight grass to 2.5-2.8 pounds a day for a 170-200 day grazing
period with alfalfa and grass mixtures.
There also an increasing number of reports from dairy farmers who have experienced feed costs
reduction by 50% or more during their grazing season. Such responses can and are getting a lot
of attention and bringing on big changes as these reports are released.
Here are the primary steps to get this program working for you:
1. Successful grazing has to start with a good alfalfa stand. Begin with a current soil test and if
necessary modify the pH to 6.5 and above. Select a proven (authentic) grazing tolerant alfalfa
variety. There are some me-too varieties that have not been thoroughly tested under third party
conditions and do not hold up to expectations. So be sure of what you are using and ask to see
data on any variety you are planning to purchase and use. Alfagraze is the first true grazing
tolerant variety that was developed and released (by the University of Georgia) and is our
exclusive variety since the release in 1990. This variety is the one that has set the pattern and
defied all sorts of challenges and remains in our stable of grazing tolerant varieties. Since it was
released, we have released four newer models which include: AmeriStand 403T, and
AmeriGraze 401+Z that are ideal for the middle states, AmeriGraze 201+Z for the extreme
northern and northern Midwestern states, and AmeriGraze 701, and AmeriGraze 702 for the
Deep Southern states. Adjust seeding rates to the conventional rates for your area. For most of
the Northeastern states this standard is 15-18 pounds per acre. Include a grass when seeding
when needed for erosion control or as an aid for bloat control. Control weeds and insects to
enhance establishment and production.
2. Guard against bloat. One of the biggest reasons farmers shy away from growing alfalfa for
grazing is the fear of bloat. Fear can be reduced with experience and with some good common
sense and tried and proven techniques. 1) Pre-fill hungry (and emaciated) animals with dry hay
or bulk feed. 2) Under close personal supervision, put animals on alfalfa pastures for short
periods initially and increase their stay as they become accustomed to the forage. 3) Keep high
quality hay available during grazing. 4) Watch the animals closely on cool wet days. Lush forage
increases consumption thus increases bloat potential particularly at this stage of growth and
climatic condition.5) Poloxolene (Bloat Guard is one product) fed prior to and during grazing
according to recommendations reduces bloat.6) Sell the few chronic bloaters while they are
among the living.
3. Decide how you want to graze. Will it be continuous or rotational grazing? The grazing tolerant
varieties will survive close, continuous grazing and still bounce back. But such management will
reduce yields and allow more unwanted weed invasion. If you should choose to graze
continuously, you should maintain 7-8 inches of growth throughout the grazing season.
4. When you rotationally graze and cattle are cycled off for two to three weeks or more, growth
can be taken down to 2-3 inches. Rotational grazing with higher stocking rates is made easier
with the recent introduction of lightweight movable fencing and water systems. The big payoff to
rotation grazing however is higher performance and more meat and milk is produced per acre at
less cost and you, instead of the animals are in charge of when and where they graze and when
and if surplus growth occurs, how it will be harvested.
5. Grazing in the establishment year. The first crop can be cut for hay at early bloom or it can be
grazed at early bloom if the ground is firm and will support cattle treading. Grazing can continue,
depending on the weather about three to four weeks later when the alfalfa is 10-12 inches tall. In
areas with cold winters, remove the stock four to five weeks prior to the historic freeze for winter
stand protection.
6. Grazing alfalfa after the seedling year is much simpler. You can start putting you animals on
the alfalfa pastures when the growth is about six inches tall. As the pasture in the field exceeds
the needs, reduce the size of the field to cut back to their needs. Continue to reduce the size of
the grazing area until the first area grazed has recovered and is 10-12 inches high. Such a
rotation usually takes 21-24 days. Should a surplus occur, harvest this excess for hay or for
silage for use if and when a stress period (drought etc) occurs or for wintertime feeding.

Livestock should be removed four to five weeks ahead of the historic freeze date to help prevent
wintertime damage. In the northern most areas, it is always wise to leave some excess growth
for further protection against ice damage.
Now you can graze alfalfa and enjoy the highest net returns from pastures you have dreamed
about for years. I have been saying for the past decade that the most important discovery in
alfalfa breeding at least in the past 50 years was the discovery of the Grazing Tolerant Trait. Now
we have the highest quality, highest yielding legume that will live longer and now can be used
about any way we want it to be used as grazing, hay or silage or even for food plots for wildlife.
In the meanwhile, our breeders have not sacrificed yields, quality, and persistence. To the
contrary as shown in university trials, these newer varieties are some of the top varieties in all of
these aspects. Plus, one of them (AmeriStand 403T) has been found to be extremely resistant to
wheel traffic when harvested as hay or silage. In more recent studies, this same variety has been
found to be resistant to manure burn when farmers find they must scatter manure at in-opportune
times. What added bonuses these are when seeding these selections.
So there you have it. At last there are some alfalfas on the market that will endure under so many
conditions that would have killed them just a decade ago. But you must keep in mind this is still
alfalfa. To make this crop be highly productive for several years it needs to be grown on deep
well drained soils. Dont forget to keep the pH level at 6.5 and above and monitor and hold the
fertility levels responsibly.

Grazing Alfalfa
Questions and Answers
Until the early 1990s, most of the alfalfa that was
grazed was older, thin stands that were on their way
out. The only varieties available then were varieties
suited for mechanical harvest. Besides, any clear
thinking farmer at that time knew that excessive
grazing would kill the stand.

Then came Alfagraze and we to our surprise we found we could graze alfalfa and keep stands
for as long or longer than before when alfalfa was cut for hay. ABI in cooperation with the
University Georgia and Dr, Joe Bouton, released Alfagraze in 1991. Since then we have
developed and released more varieties that are more productive and resilient and have a wider
area of adaptation.
Here are a few of the most often questions about grazing alfalfa.
Q. What can I expect the main advantages of growing alfalfa instead of other legume and
or grasses?
A. Beef cattle gains will be increased, milk production costs will be lowered, and legume stands
will persist longer. Bottom line, more profits from grazing.
Q. How do I know an alfalfa variety is grazing tolerant?
A. Ask to see the data. If there are no data, chances are the variety is not grazing tolerant. This is
one time that the good old boy theory doesnt work. Or check with us at 1-800-873-2532.
Chances are, unless the variety traces to the germplasm of Alfagraze, it is not a true grazing
tolerant variety.
Q. What are some of the best ways to prevent or deal with bloat?
A. Ease grazers onto alfalfa very cautiously for short periods initially. Never turn hungryemaciated cattle on lush alfalfa especially when the forage is wet and on cool days. It is always a
good idea to pre-fill them with good quality hay or bulk feed. A few days before grazing feed
Poloxolene (Bloat Guard) to get them used to it. Sell chronic bloaters before they kick the
bucket and dont keep calves from chronic bloating cows.
Q. What can I seed with alfalfa to help control bloat?
A. Plant a perennial cool season grass. If orchardgrass is adapted, this is the grass of choice by

most grazers. Grass also tends to protect alfalfa from excessive treading damage.
Q. If this alfalfa is grazing tolerant, do I need to subdivide grazing areas?
A. Any time you reduce the size of a grazing area you increase animal gains per acre and profits.
How many paddocks and what size? You decide, the smaller the better and you decide when
and how close you want the animals to graze and how often to switch-rotate them.
Q. What about using additional legumes with alfalfa when grazing?
A. Fine, but use those that are best adapted. Where red clover is well adapted, even though it
needs to be top seeded every year or two, it really does work well. White clover (including the
ladino types), grows well but is short-seasoned and is terribly bloat prone, (even more than
alfalfa). Trefoil is a dandy where adapted and you have the patience to let it grow.
Q. Is top-dress fertilizing necessary when grazing?
A. Let your soil testing results dictate fertilizing. Chances are, you will need to fertilize and lime
ahead of seeding and top dress in most areas for a couple of years until the manure distribution
is uniform. After that, test the paddocks on about a two-year basis and treat those areas that
need it.
Q. How long should I allow alfalfa to re-grow after grazing?
A. With ideal growing conditions, (water and temperature), about 24-28 days should be about
right. Some experienced grazers may get on select areas on a 20-22 day turn. Really, you
should allow time for the new growth to bloom once in a while to build food reserves when
Q. Is it a good idea to harvest surplus grazing as hay or silage?
A. Goodness yes if you need the feed or could use some additional income. This not only can
haying keep the grazing cycle on schedule the harvest of surplus growth can provide stored feed
if and when you need it.

Producing Quality Alfalfa Hay


Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa
Production 101
Once you have selected the best variety of alfalfa, it is up
to you grow the best crops possible and convert them to
livestock feed. Whether you make hay or haylage
(silage) or grazing or a combination of all of these
systems, there are rules that are to be followed. And
these so called rules apply to all phases of planning and

The following conditions dictate quality:

1) Stand density
2) Purity of the stand
3) Harvest frequency
4) Leaf retention
5) Plant and leaf diseases
6) Soil fertility and moisture
7) Harvest regimen
Stand Density: Thick alfalfa stands produce higher quality forage than thin stands. An
ideal newly established alfalfa stand is a uniform stand of 20 to 40 or more plants per
square foot. Later, that number will drop as the more aggressive plants expand and
compete for growing room. When stands drop below 5 plants per square foot, the plants
are more stemy and vulnerable to weed invasion. This is a great time to decide whether
to over-drill with grass, fill in with another legume, or plow and plant to other crops.
A thick alfalfa stand reduces room for grass and weeds to grow. The healthier the stand
is maintained with harvest frequency and high fertility levels, the higher the quality will be

at harvest time.

Frequent alfalfa harvests produce high quality hay and silage and lower per-harvest
yields. Less frequent harvests are just the opposite; higher yields per cut but lower
quality. Because of the way alfalfa grows along with temperature and moisture,
compromises are necessary to devise a program that lets plants live while harvesting
good feed. True, more farmers today are able to cut hay earlier in the spring followed by
more frequent harvests especially in early summer than ever before. Why? Its a matter
of better varieties and the use of improved cultural practices. For example, first year
spring alfalfa plantings are often harvested 65-75 days after planting. Remaining first
year harvests are made at about 30-35 day intervals but stopped 5-6 weeks before the
beginning of historic harsh winter season. Older stands are cut two to three weeks
earlier in the spring. Second and third summer cuts are made more often than newly
established plantings. These may be taken at 28-32 day intervals. In recent years, many
dairy farmers who have turned to growing the grazing/traffic tolerant varieties have been
harvesting at 20-24 day intervals. They do this to produce the highest possible protein
and digestible dry matter levels realizing there will be lower yields per harvest. Such
harvests can be devastating to hay-type alfalfa but apparently not so when growing
varieties with this tolerance trait. Ordinarily, late harvests are delayed because of slow
growth and smaller yields due to hot weather and moisture stress but growers should
allow 5-6 weeks in the fall to build food reserves for winter survival and abundant next
year crop harvests.

Leaf retention is key to high quality alfalfa. The quicker and easier the hay is put in the
bale or in the silo, the higher feed quality. Hay conditioners and drying agents have had
a great impact on reducing weather exposure time and the necessity of turning windrows
to air-dry.

Plant diseases reduce alfalfa quality. Farm experience plus research and field
experience have shown that cheap seed can turn out to be the most expensive seed on
the market. Seed costs for alfalfa stands that last 4-5 years represent 4-6% of the total
production costs. Yet some farmers continue to buy bargain seed that costs big bucks
when this seed dictates responsibility for low yields and a short lifespan.

When dealing with natural rainfall, plan your harvests around high pressure and low
pressure weather fronts as much as possible. Farmers with years of experience find that
harvests that are delayed several days beyond the normal schedule reduce the quality of
the current hay cut but when mowing, the succeeding crop is often topped and yields
and plant health are both jeopardized. Here is where common sense comes into play.
Their conclusion: it may jeopardize the current harvest but by harvesting close to the
established schedule, they may get this crop wet but can stay on schedule with
succeeding harvests and the quality of those crops will be maintained as will be the life
of the stand.

The time of day a hay crop is harvested has a lot to do with quality. Harvesting in the
early morning hours, while the atmosphere and plants are still moist seems to be the
preferred time in most regions to cut and favor leaf retention. Harvesting in the late
afternoon and early-evening hours favors the retention of higher nonstructural
carbohydrates (TNC).

Summary: 1) as plants mature (age) between harvests, quality drops. 2). Immature
plants yield less than mature ones. 3) Producers who develop a compromise between
these two opposites have a good hay program.

Harvesting First Year Alfalfa

Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101
Since you plan to keep this new stand of alfalfa for a few
years, you should temper your management to handle
the first year harvests with care. Whether you harvest the
first year seedings for hay or silage or grazing, (or
combinations of these systems), there are a few principles
that work year after year.
Managing Spring Seedings:
If you plan to use the first growth as hay or silage, you
should wait until the first crop reaches early bloom.

With good growing weather conditions, this stage normally occurs 65-75 days after seeding. If
the weather is dry or excessively wet, it could take another 10-12 days to reach this early bloom
stage. The feed quality (if the hay is harvested with care and doesnt get wet) should be 17-18%
crude protein, TDN, 56-59% and ADF (acid detergent fiber) in the low-mid 30% range.
Should the first crop be harvested earlier, (a week to 10 days earlier) and in the bud stage, the
forage quality will be higher. But an early first harvest will have a life-long damaging influence on
The remaining first year harvests ought to be made at 30-35 day intervals provided normal
weather conditions including moisture prevail. The last harvest of first year stands should be
made at 5-6 weeks (minimum) prior to the historic hard freeze date.
When you are planning to use a seeding mainly for grazing, consider hay or silage on the first
crop. In many cases, the soil will need to settle to resist livestock treading. Mechanical harvest
will usually be less damaging than livestock on first turn-in for grazing. The second and
subsequent grazing rotation can be at 21-28 day intervals depending on growth and stand
density. Be aware of and follow the guidelines for bloat prevention in other lectures in this series.
Managing Fall Seedings:
The only big differences in managing spring seedings and fall seedings is the time you make the
first harvest and possibly grazing the first harvest. Early bloom will come about a couple of
weeks earlier than spring seedings. But following harvest sequences should follow the same
maturity schedule (30-35 days) as spring seedings. Remember these plants are still less that a
year old and they are quite immature and subject to early/easy permanent damage.
If the soil is firm, there is no reason that you cannot graze the first crop. Just be sure to avoid
problems with bloat since this is the most sensitive season of the year for that problem, (when
the forage is wet and temperatures are cool) and livestock are hungry for something green. The
5-6 week suspension of grazing and hay harvest in the fall is in effect on these seeding same as
Should you top-dress fertilize these new seedings? If they need it and you want to get the
highest possible yields, go ahead and form the habit. Go back to your original soil tests and
decide the rate based on the ratios that were originally recommended. Fall (2-4 days following
the last harvest) is a great time to make these applications.
How you conduct your seeding year harvest program of alfalfa has a great deal of influence on
persistence, yield, quality, and weed control the first and continuing years.

2003 America's Alfalfa. All rights reserved.

The Ideal Harvest Schedule for Well Established



Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa

Production 101

If you really want to open a can of worms try to answer

this question to please every alfalfa grower in the USA!
Some growers want quality, others want yield, others
want persistence, and some growers dont give a flip
about persistence, all they want is a crop rotation system
that fits their land and animal needs and produce as high
quality hay as possible. Others want to graze and make
hay from the same fields, others want it ALL! The
question is, can you have your cake and eat it too?

You can come closer to this today than you could have a decade or two ago when you use the
more persistent fudge-proof varieties. Here, I am referring to the grazing and traffic tolerant
varieties that are coming closer to having it all than any other germ plasm we have used before.
As we have said before, the more often a crop of alfalfa is harvested the higher the feed quality.
The protein is higher, as is digestibility; fiber is lower and animals make more gains and produce
more milk than when the crops are harvested less frequently.
Yet when alfalfa is harvested too often, yields drop and if continued, persistence will suffer as
Earlier lectures have dealt with the introduction of traffic/grazing tolerant varieties that we have
developed over the years. This is THE starting place to get the most from your alfalfa fields. But
be assured, they are not entirely man-proof but they do persist with marginal management like
you and I have never experienced before.
With these newer more disease, insect, and traffic resistant varieties, the recovery period after
harvest and considering normal rainfall is something like 28-32 days as compared to 35-40 days
for the older varieties such as Atlantic, Buffalo, and Vernal. This means that todays growers can
usually harvest the first cutting about a week to ten days earlier thus harvest one more cutting
each year from varieties such as AmeriStand 403T and AmeriGraze 401+Z, AmeriGraze 201+Z,
AmeriGraze 702, and AmeriGraze 701. By harvesting more frequently, hay and silage quality and
yields are improved by as much as 15-20%.
In one of my earlier lectures, I discussed harvesting the highest quality alfalfa hay from the
grazing/traffic tolerant varieties. I even suggested it is possible to harvest at 21day (three weeks)
intervals without permanent damage to the stand. This will be fine if there is demand for the
extremely high quality hay and you have a special market or use that will pay big bucks for it. But
dont make this a continuing practice unless you want to replace the field with another crop soon.
A couple of harvests a year seems to be fine but continuing this fast pace harvest is bound to
reduce the vigor of any alfalfa.
When harvesting on the 28-32 day schedule, one of the recommendations that still persists is to
allow one crop (usually a low yielding one that is caught in a drought) to grow and extra week or
two (or near maturity-full bloom). This will strengthen the root and crowns and build food reserves
drained from earlier more-frequent harvests. The negative, feed quality will be lower, protein
levels can drop 13-15% and fiber is greatly elevated and volunteer consumption is reduced.
What about late fall harvest? Some years, it is such a temptation to harvest late fall regrowth
especially when hay supplies are short and cash hay prices are sky-high. Research has shown
and farmers have confirmed that the amount of hay removed within the 5-6 weeks period prior to
historic freeze dates is extremely harsh on plant life. Also, hay yields from these harvested areas
the following year will be reduced by the tonnage harvested the pervious fall. Those farmers who
feel they must harvest this crop, we make two suggestions: 1) cut near the historic frost dates so
that the alfalfa will not have time for regrowth. This is the part of harvest in the fall that really hurts
the stand. 2) Wait to harvest until there are two consecutive nights of 24 degrees F to harvest
after a couple of days for plant wilting (see photo).

When you do harvest, set the mower to leave extra crop stubble (especially in the northern
states) to protect from ice sheet damage. The stubble also helps to prevent sheet, gully, and wind
erosion in other parts of the country.
So the harvest system on year old or older alfalfa may be as simple as:
* Make the first cut at bud to early bloom.
* Subsequent cuts (depending on moisture) at or near four-week intervals with the last harvest 56 weeks ahead of the historic hard-freeze frost date.
* Should a fall harvest be made, wait until frost or just ahead of the historic frost date and leave
tall stubble for crop and land protection.

Harvest Quality Hay
Questions and Answers
Every alfalfa plant breeder I have known in the past
40 odd years has three goals to improve yields,
persistence, and quality. Most of them approach
these goals by breeding for disease control
(resistance), insect (resistance), and survival under

It has been known for years, that the more frequently a crop is harvested, the higher the feed
quality. Yet, when alfalfa is harvested too frequently, yields drop and the plant suffers from the
ability to produce food reserves in the crowns and roots. Without recovery time, the volume and
often persistence are also curtailed.
Every alfalfa plant breeder I have known in the past 40 odd years has three goals to improve
yields, persistence, and quality. Most of them approach these goals by breeding for disease
control (resistance), insect (resistance), and survival under pressure.
It has been known for years, that the more frequently a crop is harvested, the higher the feed
quality. Yet, when alfalfa is harvested too frequently, yields drop and the plant suffers from the
ability to produce food reserves in the crowns and roots. Without recovery time, the volume and
often persistence are also curtailed.
So producers wind up in a compromise of cutting late to preserve the plants and low quality
forage or cutting early to get maximum quality and curtail life or the stand. In the last 10-20
years, breeders have produced varieties with more disease and insect resistance. Thus have
developed stronger plants that bounce back quicker after harvest thus often producing more
harvests each year with the bottom line of higher quality forage.
So now we are faced with questions like the ones that follow:
Q. Is there anything I can do other than harvest more frequently to improve hay quality?
A. A thick stand of alfalfa means fewer weeds and fewer weeds equates into higher and more
acceptable hay crop. When irrigation is available especially under extreme dry conditions,
following a week of recovery time is a fantastic way to bring on new-vigorous growth without
favoring annual weed growth. When growing alfalfa and grasses together, harvest to the
advantage of the alfalfa not the grass. Soil test regularly and treat the needs as recommended.

For most of the humid regions, the most opportune time to top-dress is early fall.
Q. What do I need to look for in picking a variety for feed quality?
A. Disease and insect resistance are two on the most profound criteria.
Q. What about harvest frequency?
A. For most growers (and weather will often interfere with these guidelines), once the alfalfa
stand passes establishment year, many/most aggressive producers are mowing at a month
interval between harvests. The last harvest four or more weeks ahead of the historical hard
freeze date is still a great program but among growers is still being debated widely. BUT, if you
should decide to harvest late and you farm in the snow/ice belt, be sure to leave 5-6 inch stubble
to help prevent ice smother.
Q. How close should alfalfa be cut?
A. Above the crowns. When regrowth is well underway, usually because of inclimate weather
during the harvest season, you should raise the cutter bar to prevent topping the immature
(next crop) growth.
Q. Is there a guideline to estimate days of growth and yield?
A. Under the most ideal growing conditions, hay production yield is close to 100 pounds a day.
This estimate will vary depending on fertility, water, stand density, disease and weed invasion
resistance and weather temperature and possibly other factors.
Q. Will the first year alfalfa measure up in quality with older stands?
A. I doubt it. The first harvest should go to bloom and grow 65-75 days from seeding to harvest.
Unless the grower is very careful, weed growth (including annual grasses) will usually be more of
a concern on new stands. Put these two elements together and you will likely have less quality at
least the first harvest that year.

Alfalfa in Wildlife Food Plots

Seeding, Managing, and Maintaining
Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist: Americas Alfalfa


Production 101

Alfagraze alfalfa is an ideal grazing legume for wild deer.

It is durable, high yielding and provides the finest
summertime grazing of any forage known. As a result,
conception rate and carcass and rack quality are greatly
enhanced. Until this variety came along, it was virtually
impossible to graze alfalfa and keep stands for any length
of time. Why? The only alfalfa varieties available were
hay type varieties. And when these alfalfas are harshly
grazed, (especially when they are grazed continuously),
food reserves in the plant system are depleted and stands
fade rapidly. Alfagraze continues to build food reserves
and survive under this kind of pressure. Yields may suffer
and animal carrying capacity will drop, but the stands will
persist longer than any previously grazed alfalfa.

Alfagraze alfalfa was bred and developed by Dr. Joe Bouton at the University of Georgia using
animals and continuous grazing for ten years and two cycles of selection, he achieved a level of
persistence never before experienced in alfalfa. His original selection consisted of 22 known
varieties (many of which had been used in previous grazing studies) plus 1100 USDA plant
introductions. He initiated the breeding program in 1978 and after 12 years, (1990) it was
released for forage production. (For more on the details of how this variety was developed, log
onto the Lecture entitled Grazing Tolerant Alfalfa, It
All started with Alfagraze).
As early as 1992, some of the more aggressive deer hunters and food systems managers of

hunting clubs, especially in the southern parts of the USA started including Alfagraze in their food
plot mixes. Some of those original seedings, we are told flourished for eight to ten years and
some remain in existence. With reports like these, it is no wonder that Alfagraze seed sales
continue to grow each year.
If you are going to plant some food plots to Alfagraze, my advice is summarized in the following
seven practices that can easily make the crop a reality. Fudging on soil selection, seeding
methods, seeding rates, and timing will not produce the food plots you expect.
The Seven Keys to Success When Seeding Alfalfa:
1. Soils: The soil must be well drained internally so that water will move through the soil with little
or no impairment. Wet-soggy soils or soils with a shallow hardpan are not good alfalfa soil types.
If you planting on upland, even soils that have broken stones yet are well drained they usually
will work fine.
2. Soil pH: Alfalfa requires a soil pH of 6.5 and above. To adjust low pH soils to this level takes
varying amounts of agricultural limestone and time. So pull your soil samples and get them
tested before you even think about buying seed! Get the test report recommendations and
proceed. Should you have a low pH and you want to make the planting earlier than the usual 1218 month waiting period, you can use finely ground or hydrated lime and cut this wait time in half
provided you follow your professionals recommendation. The cost will be considerably higher,
but if you are in a hurry to get started, go for it. Anyway, chances are you will seed a modest
acreage the first time and the total costs difference will be minimal.
3. Fertilizer phosphate and potash needs are best known by soil tests as well. Since alfalfa
produces its own nitrogen, seldom if ever is chemical nitrogen recommended once the crop gets
started. You may like to use 25-40 pounds of nitrogen per acre initially (at seeding) just to pumpup an early and vigorous start.
4. Seeding time: In the south and west, late summer and early autumn is the preferred seeding
season. Timing should be five to six weeks ahead of the historic freeze date. In the Deep South,
where soils seldom freeze, seed early enough to get six to eight inches of growth by late winter.
In the Midwestern states, spring seedings should be made just after the frost is out of the
5. Seeding rates vary depending on tradition and recommendations that funnel down from your
State University and local tradition. In the far west and the deep-southern regions, the
recommended rates are usually in the 25-30 pounds per acre range. In the Midwest, the rates
range from 12-20 pounds with the average rate at around 15 pounds per acre.
6. Mixes are a little different. A simple mix is easier it is to grow and manage than a complex one.
Legumes (especially alfalfa and clovers) produce the highest quality grazing. Grasses on the
other hand especially perennial grasses, provide stable rugged cover that helps protect the soil
from excessive treading damage. Together, they team up to make great food plots when you can
get the best varieties that are compatible. Picking the legumes is really not the big deal that it
once was. Alfalfa (a grazing tolerant variety) is the longest living legume with the highest yield
potential. White clover (including ladino clover) is easy to establish and re-establish as it fades
(and it will). Red clover is a fantastic grazing crop especially when you use the new grazing
tolerant type. At present there is only one variety of red clover on the market and it is
RedlanGraze III. Red clover is easy to re-establish as it fades. Selecting grasses for the mix is a
little more difficult. Tall fescue is well adapted in most of the humid wildlife regions. There are
some new varieties that are more palatable (animals like them) and are less likely to become
somewhat toxic (due to high endophytes). Also, legumes will improve the overall grazing quality
when seeded with grass regardless of the species you choose. Annual ryegrass is a splendid
annual grass for the southern states but usually overwhelms legumes when they are grown
together. Orchardgrass is fine grazing where it is adapted (in the regions of I-40 and north).
Smooth bromegrass is best adapted from I-80 and north. Timothy is a great high quality grass
but is pretty poor pickings for grazing. So what about a mix? You choose the grass (and one
species is easier to manage than two) that best suits your area. You may want to call your county
agent or your state university forage specialist for suggestions. As for the legumes, if you are
going to dilute alfalfa and I do not like to do this, a mix of about 10 pounds of Alfagraze, 4-6
pounds of RedlanGraze III red clover, and 1 to 1 pounds of medium white clover or ladino
7. Placing seed too deep in the ground is perhaps the biggest mistake made in the entire lifespan
of an alfalfa planting or any other perennial forage seeding. Never cover the seed deeper than 8

times as deep as the seed is thick or for most perennials to inch in normal soils. You may
get by with inch sandy soils. Even if you leave a few seed on top of the ground it is better than
burying them. Also, when making the seedbed, firm the bed every time you till the soil to hold
moisture especially in the summertime as well as to help with ideal seed placement anytime.
8. No-till seeding will work fine so long as you follow the rules we have pulled together in our
WEBSITE. So go ahead and print your copy of the instructions from the introduction page of
Alfalfa 101.
So thats the story. I have been harping on using Alfagraze for the deer herds in this lecture. Yet
there are four other varieties of ours that work just as well and maybe better. In the deep-south
AmeriGraze 702 has panned out extremely well and is a very high yielder. In the Midwest and
upper south, there are AmeriGraze 401+Z and AmeriStand 403T. In the Northern states and
Canada, there is AmeriGraze 201+Z.
It all started with Alfagraze and without it, we would not have the newer ones to choose from. But
Alfagraze is still at the head of the deer hunters choice list and it is adapted about everywhere
alfalfa can be grown. Besides, it has been grown in more areas longer, the seed is more
accessible, folks are more familiar with how it performs and the seed price is lower.

Wildlife Food Plots
Questions and Answers
As the population of wild deer and elk increases, there
is more demand for better, more nutritious, higher
yielding food plots. Since the release of Alfagraze
(grazing tolerant) alfalfa variety, a move toward more
alfalfa in wildlife food plots has grown dramatically.
The following are some of the most often asked
questions and my answers.

Q. Will alfalfa grow in my area?

A. If you have well drained soils (soils that dont hold pond surface or subsoil water), the answer
is yes provided you follow the seven rules we have listed in this chapter plus some good
common sense and judgment.
Q. Can I plant grasses and other legumes (clovers) with alfalfa?
A. Yes, of course you can. But I think it would be best for you to plant the alfalfa first and then
add grass later, the next season. Then, over time as alfalfa begins to thins, add other legumes
such as white clover, red clover, trefoil (where adapted) to fill the gaps.
Q. I have a partial stand of alfalfa in some of my food plots; can I reseed alfalfa into these
A. The alfalfa will probably come up but will likely perish quickly due to autotoxicity. This
allelopathy (the older plants infecting young plants) is one of the nastiest a problems in alfalfa
production. If you plan to keep the food plots in production, I suggest you spring reseed to other
Q. What variety of alfalfa do you recommend?
A. Alfagraze is the widest used for wildlife food plots. We have others that have come along that
are as good and may be better adapted. Check with your local dealers or call our toll free
number at 1-800-875-6426 for other grazing tolerant varieties specifically for your area.
Q. What are the main advantages to growing alfalfa in wild deer food plots?
A. Folks who have switched to alfalfa tell us the improved forage quantity results in higher
quality-larger carcass, improved rack quality, increased conception rate, and longer legume
survival in the plots are some of the main advantages.

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