US - Alfalfa’s specific needs and pitfalls need to be considered when planning on what to drill into meadows and pastures this growing season.
Its requirements include well-drained, deep soils and high fertility for good yields, advises Chris Penrose, associate professor at Ohio State University.
While probably the best forage available to Ohio producers, Mr Penrose underlines the bloat issues alfalfa can cause. read more
Further considerations include buying varieties with good winter hardiness and disease resistance, particularly from potato leafhopper.
“Purchase only high quality improved varieties of seed,” says Mr Penrose. “There have been tremendous advances in quality, yield, persistence, insect and disease resistance which makes the added cost of the seed a good value.”
This is something to bear in mind for all grass and legume species.
On plots or operations where alfalfa is not a workable option, Mr Penrose recommends Birdsfoot Trefoil, Red Clover and White Clover as legume options.
In the case of grasses he considers Fescue, Orchardgrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, Smooth Bromegrass, Reed Canarygrass and the “king” of the forages – Ryegrass.
“Perennial ryegrass is a bunch-type grass that is palatable with high nutritive value. It has a long growing season and excellent yields with good fertility,” explains Mr Penrose.
However, winter hardiness, hay making qualities and competitiveness are the reasons why not everyone grows it, he adds.
When selecting seeds, producers should consider soil pH, fertility and the stock that will be eating it.
He stresses that Fescue may not be sufficient for stockers, while dry cows don’t need the best alfalfa stands.
If other ruminants like sheep and goats are around, plants storing energy at the plant base, such as Orchardgrass, are not advised. White Clover, on the other hand, works well with smaller ruminants.
In the case of poor drainage, Red Clover can work well. It also copes in slightly acidic soils. Fescue, on the other hand, tolerates poor soils, pests, disease and drought.
Barring full alfalfa drilling, Mr Penrose recommends growers mix forage types.
“Consider a primary grass, a primary legume, then you can consider minor species to add to the mix,” he says.
"It is important to consider species with similar growth habits. For example, you would not want to plant bluegrass with red clover, but you could plant orchardgrass or fescue with red clover.”
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