Selecting the right alfalfa variety

Benefit from Michigan State University’s evaluations of over 70 varieties tested during the past five years.

There are several key points to consider that will help forage producers gain increased profits.

The number one way to gain more profit is from greater yields as a result of good management and improved varieties. The selection of alfalfa varieties by producers should be one of the primary planning considerations before heading into the field this spring.

Michigan State University has evaluated over 70 alfalfa varieties in the last five years. These varieties are evaluated for yield and persistence. In addition, consider disease and insect resistance, winter-hardiness and fall dormancy when growing a short-term stand (up to five years) or a long-term stand (over five years). Variety trials have been conducted at Lake City, East Lansing, North Branch, and Chatham. These variety trials are available at:

Winter hardiness ratings and fall dormancy ratings are not the same. Nor should they be substituted for each other. A lower winter hardiness score means greater winter hardiness. Fall dormancy ratings are determined by the amount of regrowth in the fall after a mid-September cutting. Higher fall dormancy scores mean more fall growth. Both fall dormancy and winterhardiness ratings are normally determined by the marketing seed company, however, the University of Wisconsin is evaluating many commercial varieties for winter survival and the information is reported in Table 6 of the MSU Alfalfa Trials.

Winter Survival Index for Michigan

1 = superior winter survival
2 = very good
3 = good
4 = adequate
5 = low
6 = no winter survival

Successful alfalfa stands should have varieties with:

  • Moderate winterhardiness (3-4) for short-term and (2-3) for long term stands: A rating higher than 5 is not recommended in Michigan due to potential high stand losses from winter kill.
  • High yields: In 2010, the highest yielding variety per acre was in East Lansing with 9.02 tons of dry matter (DM) forage harvested, followed by North Branch with 8.33 tons DM, Lake City with 5.10 tons DM, and Chatham with 4.37 tons DM. Many of the top yielding varieties had no statistical yield differences at their perspective locations.
  • High resistance ratings: The disease resistance ratings for alfalfa include bacterial wilt; Phytophthora root rot; anthracnose; verticillium wilt; aphanomyces race 1 & 2; and fusarium wilt. Insect ratings can also include potato leafhopper; spotted aphid; blue alfalfa aphid and pea aphid. Nematode ratings can include stem nematode and northern root knot nematode.

Alfalfa Variety Resistance Ratings.

With the recent availability of glyphosate resistant (Roundup Ready) alfalfa, you may want to consider whether this will fit your cropping system and provide the best value for your farm. As with any small seeded crop, weed control is an important consideration for successful stand establishment.

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