California has the approximately 900,000 acres of alfalfa, which ranks seventh among all states, producing more than alfalfa yield than any state except South Dakota. California’s mild climate allows for a majority of alfalfa acres to be in semi-dormant or non-dormant varieties, which produce more cuts per years than most other alfalfa-growing regions. Neighboring states grow another 900,000 acres of alfalfa.

Alfalfa is one of the highest quality forages available, and therefore, is the reason both dairy and beef operations desire alfalfa for silage, hay or even grazing. Furthermore, although alfalfa is a high management crop, its deep root system allows it to thrive on less water than other forages.

AgService Seeds supplies an extensive lineup of alfalfa products, including varieties from DeKalb, Mycogen Seeds and Pioneer. Research and development on alfalfa has been extensive and continues. It is a very complex forage with numerous qualities that must be considered before making a buying decision. When selecting a variety for your farming operations, consider these criteria:

Fall Dormancy (FD)

Fall dormancy  is a rating from 1 to 9. Dormancy is triggered by the hours of sunlight. A FD 1 variety goes dormant very early in the fall and comes out of dormancy very late in the spring. It requires the most sunlight to function. A FD 9 is actually non-dormant and tries to continue to grow constantly. If the temperature is mild enough, non-dormant varieties can be a great option. Fall dormancy also dictates your cutting schedule. For example, a FD 3 usually produces 3 to 4 cuts per year. A FD 6 can often produce 6-7 cuts per year. A FD 9 variety can produce 9-12 cuts per year. Always keep in mind that an alfalfa plant has about 16 quality cuts in it. After that, the plant has been aged and stressed and is no longer is economical.

Winter Hardiness Rating (WH)

Winter hardiness is measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the most winter hardy. Semi-dormant and non-dormant varieties are not rated for WH, as the climates they are developed for never get cold enough to winter kill the varieties. In other regions, it is very important. At higher elevations or more northern latitudes, a WH 2.5 rating or better is preferable.

Disease Resistance/Rating Index (DRI)

The DRI ranking can be very important. It is a scale that measures six major alfalfa diseases/pests. Each disease is given a resistance rating of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. So a perfect DRI rating is 30:30 (the high rating of 5 for each of the six diseases). Not all regions suffer from all six major diseases, so the individual disease resistance scores are important.

Roundup Ready (RR) Alfalfa

RR alfalfa is a great tool, especially for weed-prone fields. Since glyphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide, RR alfalfa also can reduce the amount of herbicides needed to grow quality alfalfa, since growers no longer need to apply both grass-specific and weed-specific herbicides to their alfalfa fields.

Basic Alfalfa Agronomic Information

Seeding Rate: 12-18 lbs/acre

Seeding Depth: ¼ inch

Drought Tolerance: Excellent

Heat Tolerance: Excellent

Longevity: 16 cuts

Nutrient Requirements: Approximately 50 lbs/potassium and 15 lbs/phosphorous per acre per ton produced.

Micronutrient Requirements: Removes 30 lbs of Ca, 6 lbs of Mg, 6 lbs of S, and .8 lbs of B per acre per ton produced. Alfalfa also responds well to applications of other micronutrients.

Soil pH Requirement: 6.0 to 7.5