If every alfalfa variety came with a gimme cap, an alfalfa producer could wear a new hat each day for a lifetime and have a few unsoiled fedoras to pass on to the next generation of family hay growers.
Selecting an alfalfa from an alphabet soup of current offerings can be confusing. The final decision often comes down to price.
It shouldn't, according to Dan Putnam, University of California, Davis Extension agronomist.
Putnam told a gathering of hay producers at the UC Kearney Agricultural Center in Parlier, Calif., to forget price. Select an alfalfa that is best suited for your area based on:
- Fall dormancy.
- Pest Resistance.
- Stand persistence and forage quality.
Alfalfa seed prices range from $1 to $3 per pound. With a 25-pound seeding rate, that spread represents a significant up front cost.
“Most growers spend about a minute to choose an alfalfa variety and do it on price,” said Putnam.
However, Putnam, pointed out that even $2 spread can be recovered in just one-tenth of a ton of added hay production due to improved variety yield.
OK, forget about price. That still leaves dozen of varieties from which to chose, many so close in yield it is like splitting hairs to chose one over another.
For example, Putnam passed out a yield trials table from the Kearney station detailing yields from 21 released varieties and 21 experimentals.
“First, don't make a decision on just one year's yields. At least two and preferably three years of yield results should be reviewed.
“Select from the group of varieties fitting your dormancy requirements,” said Putnam. Pest resistance is important. It's like auto insurance. You don't need it until you need it.
For the past two years stem nematodes have damaged alfalfa in the Sacramento. Putnam said stem nematode resistance has been recommended for the Sacramento Valley for 10 to 15 years. It has not been a problem over most of that time, but in the past two years it has and growers have not been selecting varieties for resistance to the pest. The past two years many have been sorry they haven't.
Fall dormancy ratings have direct bearing on alfalfa yield and quality.
For each fall dormancy category, there is a six-tenths of a ton difference in yield. However, the lower the dormancy rating, the better the alfalfa quality.
“The idea is to balance yield and quality. However, there are exceptions to the rule,” said Putnam, who suggested growers would do well finding which ones they are.