SEEDSTOCK AND SEED PURCHASING
contributed article by Justin Fruechte, Forage & Cover Crop Specialist
Millborn Seeds, Brookings, S.D.
It’s bull and alfalfa buying season. Both are purchases that will impact your operation for about five years and both come with a plethora of data. Unfortunately, there are years when we let time slip by and end up buying the no-sale bull left at the neighbors or the pallet of alfalfa leftover at the farm store without knowing anything about either’s data. This is the time to learn how to buy alfalfa.
First, let’s decode the numbers and determine what is of value. Like EPDs, these numbers may or may not be relevant to what you are searching for. Fall Dormancy or FD is the most important number to pay attention to. Fall Dormancy is ranked from 1 to 11 and is determined on ability to grow more yield later into the fall. Higher numbers are less dormant, and consequently less suitable for colder climates. We want alfalfa varieties that can grow late into the year, but they also need to properly go dormant before winter without freezing out. A Fall Dormant 4 is quite common for the Upper Midwest.
Winter hardiness is another important score to understand, as it reflects the variety’s ability to survive winter conditions through dormancy. These ratings are scored from 1 to 6, with the lower number being more winter hardy. Winter hardy scores of 1 and 2 are suitable for the Northern states.
There was a time when bull tests were popular, and buyers got to see how various producers’ bulls stacked up against one another in the same environment. This is very relatable to alfalfa forage trials, which is another useful tool to use when selecting a variety. These trials will measure yield and nutritional analysis of numerous varieties and publish results yearly. Much like the bull tests, these university funded forage trials have dwindled, but if you can search one out near you the data is valuable and relevant.
If you are marketing your hay, look at how premiums are being paid in your area. A bull that can get your calves into a value-added program adds premiums to your crop. An alfalfa variety that has marketing perks is worth looking into. Many hay markets are now paying a premium for alfalfa/grass hay over straight alfalfa hay. Using a blend of alfalfa with orchard, timothy, or tall forage fescue could capture those higher market premiums. Another buzz term that has been adding premiums to hay is low lignin content. There are conventionally bred low-lignin alfalfa varieties that will yield great while still maintaining high digestibility scores.
When you find a seedstock producer that consistently breeds quality bulls for your program it is easy to buy from them. This spring, do your due diligence on researching alfalfa and find the support from an alfalfa program that supports you. Research won’t be as fun as watching bull videos on auctions, but it will be worth having the correct hayfield on your farm for the next half of a decade.
Photos courtesy Millborn Seeds
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Millborn Seeds, Brookings, SD
The team of folks at Millborn Seeds have roots that run deep in farming, agriculture, and in the overall respect for the landscape. They opened their doors in 1987 and continue to walk alongside farmers, ranchers, and landowners across thousands of acres throughout the Midwest.