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Be Sure Alfalfa Is Right Choice for Your Forage

Be Sure Alfalfa Is Right Choice for Your Forage
Not every field is right for seeding alfalfa, Purdue Extension educator says

An ideal stretch historically is ahead for seeding spring forage crops. In Indiana, alfalfa is still the queen of forages, but Chris Parker says there are situations where you might be better off choosing a different forage option.

Parker, Extension ag educator in Morgan County, and author of Forage Notes in Indiana Prairie Farmer, says that if you have a poorly drained or somewhat poorly drained field, you might be better off choosing another crop.

Match forage to soil: Alfalfa does well on naturally well-drained or well-tiled spoils, Chris Parker says.

"Alfalfa does not like wet soils," he says. "One problem is the potential for heaving during the winter. It is much worse with wet soils. This year is a classic case. We have had lots of frost and thaw cycles, and alfalfa stems in wet soils could heave out of the ground. If too much heaving occurs, it shortens the life of the stand as a productive hay field or pasture."

Parker says not to overlook the value of grass forage crops or red clover. These tend to do better on wet soils. Red clover is not a favorite of horse people, and can interfere with reproductive cycle on adult female ewes, but it can be excellent pasture and hay for beef cattle, he says.

The problem with alfalfa is the investment you make in seed costs upfront. "If you go with a good variety you may pay $60 per acre," he says. "If you factor that over five or six years, it's not that much per acre per year, but it's a big investment to make on soil where you might not be able to hold a stand that long."

If you're buying alfalfa seed, be sure you know what you're getting. He says. There is still some of an old public variety, Vernal, on the market, and it performs very well in the short run. However, it does not have the longevity of more modern varieties. Vernal will be priced at a much lower level.

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