What is the Correct Seeding Rate for Alfalfa?


  Warren C. Thompson
National Forage Specialist:
America’s Alfalfa


The first two questions that farmers ask, once they have decided to plant an field of alfalfa is, “What variety should I sow” and “What is the right seeding rate for my farm”?  That’s a tough pair of questions unless whoever is asked inquires, “what is the normal (traditional) rate for your region and how it is going to be used, (hay or grazing), the amount of slope and potential sheet erosion hazards, are you going to seed with a cool season or warm season perennial grass? You see it is not all that simple and the chances are you will be the one to find the final answer. 


There are roughly 220,000 alfalfa seed in one pound of seed.  There are 43,560 square feet per acre so with absolute and immaculate seed distribution, this could put five seeds per square foot. Of course, you are not going to be able to get a seeding that perfect.  So what is the practical way to decide on a respectable seeding rate to get uniform and vigorous alfalfa stand that will endure?  


An ideal seedling alfalfa stand is 25-40 plants per square foot at three to four weeks after planting.  If that’s the case, why you might ask, do the recommended seeding rates run around 15-18 pounds per acre and higher in most of the Midwestern states? In other areas of the humid region such as the Southeast, the recommended rates are usually double the 15 pounds per acre rate. In those regions in between the Midwest and Southeast, the rates are somewhere in between, 15-20 pounds per acre.  In the irrigated regions of the West, where most of the crop is used for commercial hay production, seeding rates are usually higher (25-35 pounds per acre) to get very thick stands from which they sell quality hay and keep the crop in production longer.  It is simply a notion to have a dense-uniform vigorous crop to ward off early weed and miss-management screw-ups.