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Alfalfa Seed For Hay & Forage

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Alfalfa Seed Facts

Scientific Name is Medicago sativa L.

AlfalfaAlfalfa seed produces a cool season perennial that is grown in almost every state in the US and is often called "The Queen of the Forages". It can survive temperature extremes of -25 to over 50 degree centigrade. Alfalfa (European name: Lucerne) is found worldwide and most likely originated in the middle east, probably in Iran. It grows best in areas where cool season perennial grasses are normally planted although there are new improved varieties, such as Bulldog 805 Alfalfa seed, that are considered warm climate alfalfa cultivars.

Alfalfa Pasture

Alfalfa is high in minerals, vitamins and protein making it one of the most nutritious crops that can be utilized in any forage situation whether for pasture use or as a wildlife food plot crop. Depending upon the cultivar, Alfalfa withstands a wide variety of climates and is highly drought resistant because it can lay dormant for up to 2 years when in a drought situation.

In the USA, the largest acreage is in the North Central states (Dakotas, Wisconsin, Minnesota). It is also grown in the west and in the Southeast. Alfalfa performs best on irrigated, fertile, well drained loamy soils. In the Eastern USA states, irrigation is not as critical a factor due to increased rainfall.

Fall Dormancy in Alfalfa & Alfalfa Crop Mangement

Fall Dormancy (FD) is an important trait of alfalfa varieties, describing their growth in the fall due to decreasing temperatures and day length. FD scores range from 1 to 11, with the lower-numbered varieties exhibiting less growth in the fall. Typical adaptation for alfalfa varieties are as follows: FD scores of 1-4 for colder regions (Intermountain, northern US); FD 5-7 scores are typical for mild temperate regions (e.g. Sacramento Valley); varieties with FD 7-9 for warmer and Mediterranean regions (e.g. southern San Joaquin Valley); FD 8-11 varieties for hot desert zones (e.g. Arizona, Imperial Valley, Mexico).

Fall dormancy clearly influences alfalfa stand persistence, adaptation, and performance. For example, non-dormant (FD 8-11) varieties will typically be killed by winter temperatures in the Northern US, whereas more dormant varieties typically have greater persistence.

Alfalfa is one of the highest-yielding perennial forage crops grown and the most frequently grown forage legume. It produces more protein per unit area than other forage legumes and can be grown alone or in combination with various grass species. For high yields and persistence, alfalfa requires well-drained soil, a pH above 6.1, adequate fertility and proper harvest management. Well-managed alfalfa normally persists for 3 or more years. The protein and energy levels of alfalfa-based forage are determined by stage of growth at the time of cutting. Alfalfa has a 6-week critical fall harvest period that should be observed to avoid winterkill.

Fall dormancy information courtesy of University of California.


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Uses For Alfalfa

Alfalfa HayIn the past the primary use for alfalfa has been in hay crops. With the advent of new cultivars, the high costs related to chemical nitrogen, renewed interest has been shown using Alfalfa as a grazing crop (usually with pasture grass). Alfalfa has the highest feeding value of all common hay crops and it is excellent as a grazing crop in pastures due to it's high nutritional value for all types of livestock, including horses, cattle, dairy cattle, and sheep. Planting Alfalfa with another grass minimizes bloat problems, while maximizing gain. Alfalfa also is a good soil fixer, supplying nitrogen back into the soil by combining with the bacteria Rhizobium meliloti.

Plantings of Alfalfa alone have sustained the honey industry, because of the high nectar quality found in it's flowers. It is the most common crop planted ford for honeybees. As a legume Alfalfa may be planted alone, planted with other grasses to raise the fertility of the soil, used in rotational grazing practices, erosion control areas, used in wildlife food plots. and many other uses. In silage, Alfalfa,  is combined with grains and/or molasses. It is a highly desirable feed for all grazing animals. Alfalfa planted in combination with grasses reduces the problem of bloating which can result in death.

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Planting & Maintaining Alfalfa

Planting Alfalfa SeedSITE PREPARATION: A properly prepared seedbed provides for best germination; firm seedbed, moist soil / granular (not powdery). Alfalfa can be used to follow behind a small grain or sorghum crop with minimum preparation (harrowing). Culti-packing alfalfa is excellent and is recommended for low moisture planting conditions. Soil pH is critical for success with Alfalfa. Usually lime is needed to raise ph to an ideal 6.8. Boron, potassium, potash, sulfur and nitrogen are all needed for best growth. A soil test should be made prior to planting.

Planting Alfalfa Seed - Rates & Time

Planting Dates: Plant late summer to early fall in Southeast. In cooler, mountain locations, spring seeding may be preferable, but late summer and fall is also practiced. Inoculation is not required on plantings where prior Alfalfa has grown or if your Alfalfa seed is pre-inoculated.
Seeding rate: Southern areas: 20 - 25 lbs / Acre.
Seeding Method: Broadcast or Band Seed
Depth: Ideal depth 1/4 inch coverage.
Fertilization: Alfalfa is a legume and dependent upon the usage and since it is grown in so many different areas; soil tests are the only reliable method of determining what levels of nutrients are needed.
Watering: Irrigation is a must in some areas if seasonal rains are not sufficient.
Weeding: This should be done before seeding and following the method as suggested by your county agent.
Establishment: Early spring, late summer or fall depending upon the location, on a weed free and well prepared seedbed. With adequate water the establishment time is generally about 60 days for the first harvest.

Alfalfa Info - A Soil Re-building  Legume

More on America's ( Ameristand) Alfalfa variety info at: Americas Alfalfa's

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