Preparing for a new age in alfalfa

Producers discuss management of forage varieties

ST. CHARLES, Minn. - When it comes to alfalfa seed traits, every dairy farmer uses something a little bit different to meet their needs. For three farmers, two traits have helped them improve their alfalfa stands in southern Minnesota.
Three producers – Todd Crouch, of Rushford; Ben Daley, of Lewiston; and Doug Heintz, of Caledonia – discussed their alfalfa management with varying seed traits during a panel put on by the Midwest Forage Association at the Ihrkes’ farm July 19 near St. Charles.
“For us, we just wanted options,” Daley said. “We had sprayed the Roundup on Roundup Ready alfalfa, and then a friend of mine talked me into HarvXtra (alfalfa). Having this option is very nice, because Roundup Ready is very limited on what you can do.”
Daley milks 1,400 cows with his family. They raise corn silage, earlage and 800 acres of alfalfa, 500 of which is the low lignin variety.

Low lignin alfalfa improves yields
Daley and Heintz use low lignin alfalfa to improve yields during weather delays.
“We were really looking at the benefits of opening up the windows when you get in those weather delays where you can still get some good quality feed,” Heintz said.
Heintz milks 200 cows with his family as well as raises 250 acres of corn, 125 of which is brown mid rib corn for silage, and 240 acres of alfalfa, one-third of which is HarvXtra.
Heintz and his family have been using the alfalfa variety since 2016.
“To begin, we had it on our best ground right next to the dairy and could only compare it to the older hay so it was looking good,” Heintz said.
Daley rotates his crop on a four-year rotation, while Heintz sticks with a five-year rotation on alfalfa.
“I push the alfalfa, and I’d say that’s a big plus,” Heintz said. “It really seems to stand out. I wonder if I should be plowing it down; it looks so good.”
Heintz and Daley both seed their alfalfa at the rate of 18 pounds per acre.
“We typically roll before we seed,” Daley said. “Then, we mix it with 28 pounds of oats. I think having a firm seedbed before you start actually helps quite a bit.”
Heintz uses a Brillion seed drill.
“I have an old John Deere grain drill that I pull ahead of the Brillion and seed about 3 pounds of oats with the alfalfa,” Heintz said.
For sulfur, Heintz adds an ammonium sulfate product, and Daley uses the farm’s manure. They both only spray for insects and use a glyphosate product once throughout the growing season.
“I have sprayed leafhoppers in the past,” Heintz said. “This year, the bugs are not as bad. And, I used to spray glyphosate more often, but lately, it’s been just when I need it.”
Both Daley and Heintz have noticed benefits in terms of feed value, tonnage and longevity.
“We stretched out cuttings a few times and it held up as far as feed value,” Daley said.
Heintz agreed.
“Tonnage and longevity are good,” he said. “We don’t see production changes as much throughout the year and that is because we take a good high-quality bale with a touch lower quality bale to make the feed consistent throughout the year.”
A variety for weed control
When looking at the goals for their farm, adding Roundup Ready seed technology was an easy choice for Crouch.
“Our biggest concerns were weed control, cost and the simplicity of Roundup,” Crouch said. “We were producing conventional alfalfa but found that weed control is so much simpler with Roundup Ready alfalfa, especially when we are selling it to a dairy who is particular on what they want.”
Crouch is the crop manager for G and R Farms which partners with D and D Dairy to provide feed for the 1,000-cow dairy. The farm raises 585 acres of Roundup Ready alfalfa and 800 acres of corn silage, 600 of which is BMR corn.
The alfalfa crop is grown on a three-year rotation.
“There was a manure pit built for much less cow numbers,” Crouch said. “So, one of our biggest challenges is getting rid of the manure, and we have to haul it on the hay ground. A lot of times, if we can get three years out of the alfalfa, we are doing pretty good.”
The dairy purchased another farm with a lagoon, so Crouch is now able to get fourth-year alfalfa.
“It’s not cheap, but we are not wrecking our alfalfa, and we can get to further fields in the fall,” he said.
Crouch seeds with a Brillion seeder and plants at around 21 pounds per acre.
“We come through after with a roller and firm it up,” Crouch said.
For sulfur, Crouch gets most from the manure and then also adds potash and elemental sulfur.
“On our new seeding year, we put manure out to get the alfalfa growing,” Crouch said.
After the first crop, they apply 125 pounds of a potash product, and then after the fourth crop, they add 15 pounds of potash and elemental sulfur, said Crouch.
Crouch sprays once a year for insects and weeds.
“We try to get to spray glyphosate early after we plant in that 30- to 40-day range,” Crouch said. “But if I see some weeds out there that are a couple inches tall, I get them sprayed.”
Typically, the weed threshold is met for Crouch, but additional herbicide may need to be applied in the fourth year.
Seven years ago, Crouch experimented with fungicides.
“We split a field in half for a year and put them on with a ground rig,” Crouch said. “We custom chopped the first two crops and could see different red and green images on R7 imagery. We knew something was happening. When we took field samples of both sides and looked at the tonnage, they were virtually identical in terms of forage quality. However, we did get enough tonnage out of it to pay for the application of the product.”
Overall, Crouch has been satisfied with using Roundup Ready variety for his alfalfa fields.
“This will be our first year with alfalfa that is going to be in its fourth year so it will be interesting to see how it does,” Crouch said. 


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