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Survey: Understanding producer challenges related to growing alfalfa in the South

Published on 15 July 2020

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) is a perennial forage legume with high forage yield and nutritive value. The “Queen of Forages” is one of the most widely grown forage crops in the U.S. with most production concentrated in the northern and western regions of the country.

In the southern U.S., there has been a decrease in alfalfa acreage over the last century due to constraints related to the harsh environmental conditions and elevated insect pressure. In more recent years, forage breeding efforts and research associated with improved management strategies have increased stand persistence of alfalfa in the region.

Alfalfa has a long taproot system and requires well-drained, high-fertility soils for growth. Prior to planting, soil pH and fertility testing must be conducted, and recommended fertilizer rates should be applied to improve conditions for establishment success. Fertilization must include boron and molybdenum required for nodule formation for biological nitrogen fixation. Then choice of variety must be aligned with climatic conditions and proposed use of alfalfa in the system, such as for hay production, grazing or dual-purpose use. 

Alfalfa can be planted in monocultures or mixed stands with grasses, such as bermudagrass. In the southeast U.S., there has been a growing interest in alfalfa-bermudagrass systems due to the complementary growth pattern of alfalfa with bermudagrass improving forage production. Thus, mixing alfalfa into bermudagrass systems allow for input of nitrogen and increases nutritive value compared to bermudagrass monocultures alone. Depending on climatic conditions, these systems require 28 to 35 days intervals between harvest events and have high nutritive value characteristics. In the southeast U.S., when harvesting for hay production, one of the main challenges is timing to cut and dry due to rainfall patterns, which has increased production of baleage.

A recent network collaboration among land-grant universities in the southern region aims to understand main challenges farmers face when incorporating alfalfa into forage systems in the south U.S. through a survey application. This survey targets beef and hay producers that have planted or are interested in establishing alfalfa into their forage systems as monoculture or mixed with grasses. The goal is to gather information that will be used to develop more effective research and education programs in the region aiming to improve forage production and farm enterprise sustainability.

We ask for your participation in improving educational programs related to alfalfa by taking the alfalfa survey. All information will be kept confidential to the extent allowed by applicable state and federal law, and it should take no more than 10 minutes. Participate in the survey for a chance of win a free bag of alfalfa seeds (worth $250)! Please click here to access the survey. The survey will be open until February 2021.  end mark

—From the Forage Focus Program news release

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