Selecting an Alfalfa Variety for Your Farm



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

There is no such thing as ‘making a silk purse our of a sow’s ear’. Neither can you expect the best alfalfa hay and pasture yields and survival over time with the cheapest or the ‘old reliable’ varieties. With all of the varieties available, you can now choose the ones with the characteristics you need and want. These include yield, adaptation, persistence, disease and insect resistance, and even grazing and traffic tolerance. So for goodness sake, take the time to study and select the best varieties for you to grow on some of your best land for the next four or more years.

A study by folks at The Pennsylvania State University a number of years ago looked at the costs of producing alfalfa on some 500 farms in that state. I have left out the decimals to make it easier to understand. Production costs were as follows: Machinery 40%, Fertilizer including lime 20%, Labor 17%, Land-Use 15%, Other (including seed, pesticides, etc.) 8%. The seed cost is a small fraction (possibly 5%) of the cost of production.

Some data of work at the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Jimmy Henning of the Department of Agronomy has opened a lot of eyes. As a supplement to his yield trials over a period of two years at three locations, he discovered an average 16.5% lower yield of the ‘old-check’ varieties compared to some of the ‘top’, varieties possessing features like disease and insect resistance, better adaptation, etc.

When he related this yield difference to dollar value, the returns were very relevant. He reported, “when alfalfa hay is selling for $85 a ton the increased yield from the top-new varieties over the check varieties grossed $72 more per acre. For a five-year stand that’s an extra $361.25 per acre. On 20 acres, that adds up to $7,225 more income for an added seed cost of $800.00 for the entire 20 acres”. A return of $9 for each $1 increase in cost for the seed isn’t a bad return on the added investment.

Most farmers that I know are looking for reliable varieties that will produce well for at least 4-5 years. If the crop is going to grazed, this is a no brainier, you should select one of our grazing tolerant varieties. If you are looking only for high hay yields, select a ‘hay’ variety that is a high yielding in valid tests and has proved dependable with a history of survival, high in quality, and is disease resistant that fits a specific need. If you think you might want to graze livestock and cut hay both from the same field, always chose a grazing variety.

We have found that our grazing tolerant varieties also produce exceptionally high hay yields. In fact some of the top yields in company and University trials were reported to be made using the grazing/traffic tolerant varieties including AmeriStand 403T, AmeriGraze 401+ Z and AmeriStand 201+Z.

I can make it easy for you to select and find the right varieties for your farm. Simply log onto: to locate the variety you want to grow. If you want or need more information, simply use the above web address and click to “grazing varieties or haying varieties, then click to more information, then for expert advice” and request our new variety publication