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ND Farmer Rehabs Saline Seeps With Alfalfa

ND Farmer Rehabs Saline Seeps With Alfalfa

Works like drain tile by drawing down the water level and opening up the soil.

Tim Bernston, Buffalo, N.D., is rehabbing saline soils on his farm using alfalfa.

Typically he's able to produce 3-4 tons of alfalfa per acre off a saline areas where soybeans produce little or nothing.

Bernston sells the alfalfa to a neighbor who has cattle. The neighbor cuta and bales the alfalfa himself and pays Bernston about $35 per ton for the alfalfa. Alfalfa seed generally costs Bernston about $50 per acre.

Bernston grows alfalfa on saline soils for 3-4 years and then plants back to corn, followed by soybeans.

Tim Bernston checks alfalfa that's is growing where soybeans failed.

Crops after alfalfa do well because the alfalfa lowers the water table and opens up the soil so the water can move back down through the profile. Alfalfa also adds nitrogen to the soil and improves the soil's biological health.

Bernston likens the effect alfalfa has on the soil to drain tile.

"If you can't tile, planting alfalfa is a good alternative," he says.

Bernston's rehabbing efforts will get a boost with introduction of a new salt tolerant alfalfa from Dairyland Seed Company called Magnum Salt. The new variety's parent plants were selected from plants that grew vigorously even in the saline seep soils on Bernston's and other farmers' land in the Buffalo area. Bernston is a Dairyland Seed dealer.

Magnum Salt has a branching root trait that helps it grow in heavy or wet soils. It also has an erect growth habit, which results in plants remaining upright in dense stands.

With Mangum Salt, Bernston expects to produce even more alfalfa on saline seeps and produce a thicker stand even in the worst salt areas.

Where it is especially tough to get soybeans to grow, Bernston is thinking about rotating corn and Magnum Salt alfalfa after the initial rehab period.

"Maybe I could grow two years of alfalfa, followed by two or three years of corn and then go back to alfalfa," he says.

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