Alfalfa Consolidation Rules of the Day

The alfalfa seed industry has gone through a massive makeover in the past 20 years. There are significantly fewer seed marketers and breeding programs, precious few university testing trials. This consolidation provides both positives and negatives for the alfalfa producer. The remaining breeding programs are all first-class entities with highly skilled individuals making cultivar selections. They wouldn’t have survived otherwise.

On a negative note, there is less competition and brand choices for the farmer. Many brands have simply fallen along the proverbial roadside.

The greatest challenge in the variety selection game is that university performance trials have become few and far between. There was a day when many universities were testing 30 to 40 varieties per year, but those days are gone. This has occurred for several reasons:

· Program managers either left or retired, and their positions weren’t filled.

· Companies preferred not to enter their varieties.

· The expense of running or entering trials was too great given economic constraints.

The result of fewer third-party testing programs is that producers must now find out in real time if a variety is a top performer or not, at least relative to other brand options. This situation is likely not to change.

Even with significant industry consolidation and fewer variety trials, there is still money to be made by devoting some time to alfalfa variety selection. There remain some

foundational selection concepts that are as true today as they have ever been. In fact, there may be more. Here’s my list:

1) Get data if you can, but that’s becoming more difficult with fewer university trials and very little on-farm testing.

2) Don’t select based only on one trait. This is always a recipe for disaster and is akin to picking your spouse based solely on hair color.

3) Consider fall dormancy. Fall dormancy rating is still an important consideration for both yield and forage quality. The trend is toward higher fall dormancy ratings with fast regrowth potential and exceptional winter survival.

4) Yield still matters. Forage yield remains the key factor to a profitable alfalfa enterprise. A modest 1/4 ton (dry matter) per acre yield advantage equates in value to 13 to 17 bushels per acre of corn.

5) Seed cost is easy to recover with enhanced performance. Unlike an annual crop such as corn, added alfalfa seed cost doesn’t have to be recovered in one year. The real “cost” of seed is not reflected in the purchase price alone.

Seeding an inferior-yielding variety, regardless of price, means that long-term costs of production are higher per ton of forage produced. Generally speaking, advanced genetics and performance are going to cost more money. Conversely, cost is always a consideration when choosing between comparable varieties. ~ Mike Rankin, Hay and Forage Grower, Oct. 2020. Read the full article here.