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Traits to consider when selecting alfalfa seed

If you are seeding alfalfa in the spring, choose a variety that has a strong winter hardiness rating.

February 17, 2021

2 Min Read
Alfalfa crop
SURVIVAL RATE: It is a good time to assess the winter survivability of your alfalfa crop and to decide which varieties, with good winter hardiness ratings, to plant this spring.Curt Arens

Whether you planned it originally or held off due to dry conditions in the fall, the time for spring-planting alfalfa is just around the corner. Selecting the right seed is crucial, and two traits to consider are fall dormancy and winter survival. These traits often are treated the same, but they are different. 

Winter survival or winter hardiness is the ability for an alfalfa plant to make it through winter without injury, once the plant goes dormant. This is different than the fall dormancy rating that measures the alfalfa’s ability to prepare for and recover from dormancy. 

Winter survival is measured on a 1 to 6 scale, with 1 being extremely hardy and 6 not hardy. For Nebraska, a winter survival rating of 3 is about as high as farmers want to go. There are free alfalfa ratings available online that may be helpful for comparison between varieties.

As temperatures drop and days shorten, alfalfa plants change their physiology to survive freezing temperatures and make it through winter. Increased hardiness can lead to reduced yield potential, but for a high-dollar perennial forage, having a stand year after year is key.

In the past, winter survival traits were linked with fall dormancy. With new varieties, this isn’t always the case, so winter survival needs to be evaluated on its own.

Farmers want to pick a winter survival ranking that will get them through winter without compromising yield. Where you are located plays a big role in what to pick. Winter temperatures affect the choice, but maintained snow cover is also important. 

As snow can help insulate the ground, areas that regularly have open winters may need as high or higher survival rating than colder locations with winterlong snow cover.

The bottom line for Nebraska is a winter survival rating of 3 is about as high as farmers want to go, and areas with open winters or regularly colder temperatures should be even lower. 

Source: UNL Forage Minute, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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